People gathered Saturday at Chicago Street Plaza in Joliet to protest the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The demonstration marked one of many taking place all across the nation in the wake of national controversy over the “zero-tolerance” policy, a measure put into practice by President Donald Trump and his federal administration that separates those suspected of illegally crossing the border or seeking asylum.
The protest was hosted by various organizations, including Latinos for Joliet, Will County Progressives, Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project and more. It featured prayer, speeches, a parade procession and preaching on the gospel and humanitarian issues.
Richard Rodriguez, chairman of Latinos for Joliet and an event organizer, told the crowd this is an American crisis happening in front of us.
Among the elected officials and religious leaders at the event were Bishop Daniel Conlon, Pastor Herbert Brooks, Jr., State Rep. Natalie Manley, State Rep. Larry Walsh, Jr., Joliet Councilwoman Bettye Gavin, State Sen. Pat McGuire and more.
Walsh said it is time for people to unite.
“They’re trying to divide us, and they put these hot button issues to keep people at separate length instead of bringing them together,” he said.
Hundreds turned out to take part in the protest. Among those at the demonstration was Joliet resident Rosa Hernandez. She said she was motivated to come out as a mother and first-generation American.
“My purpose [of coming out was] to show we all want to be together and to come together as one because we’re all the same,” she said. “We’re all children of God.”
Hernandez recalled crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at age 3
“It was difficult,” she said. “You got the opportunity to become a citizen, but [I remember] how it was hard.”
Gavin said it is horrible knowing the trying times that the nation faces.
“I stand with you today because our histories are so intertwined together,” she said. “As you know, the African American community, we’ve been here before. We’ve had families torn apart. So, we stand together today in this great city of Champions in Joliet. Joliet’s voice will be heard that we are for uniting families.”
Jeff Grimes, a Joliet Central High School teacher, said he wanted people to know the way his students feel about family separations at the border and shared with the crowd their written statements to a prompt, titled, ‘Things I wish my teachers at Joliet Central knew about undocumented students.’
“I feel isolated,” he read, noting that these kids are age 14-18. ”We don’t have the same opportunities as other students. I did not commit a crime yet I am treated as a criminal.”
Grimes said it is heartbreaking knowing the situation many immigrant families face and that he sees these kids everyday in school.
“Our role, as a community, is to stand, to unite, to fight, to continue the good fight,” he said, noting that people cannot wait for the president or Congress to fix the issue.
“We need to come together, we need come up with a strategy, and we need to make people feel accepted, loved, and embraced right, here, in Joliet, Illinois,” Grimes added.