NORMAL — Bayo Adanri refuses to stand by silently while other immigrants to the United States are treated poorly.
"We should be the bridge to make things better for people, advance progress and be a beacon for everyone, a jewel. ... But it's saddening the way things are going," said Adanri, a Nigerian immigrant and former Normal town planner. "I just want our politicians to find a way to bring the country together. ... We are better than this."
Adanri was among about 250 residents who spread that message at a rally for immigration reform Thursday at Uptown Circle in Normal. Attendees spoke against President Donald Trump's policies that have separated children from parents at the border and in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
"Now they want to put the whole family in there. That doesn't sound like progress to me," said Tom Cullen, who volunteers with rally organizer Illinois People's Action, referring to a new policy that puts parents and children together in detention. "We might be able, with enough people power, to stop this current situation. ... We need immigration reform badly in this nation."
Speakers also thanked the town of Normal for passing a "welcoming city" policy and asked attendees to apply pressure to the city of Bloomington, which has discussed but not passed a similar ordinance, to act.
The group plans to mobilize again for a Bloomington City Council meeting on July 9. Mayor Tari Renner told The Pantagraph he plans to call a special meeting for the discussion before the council's scheduled session at 7 p.m.
Normal's policy offers residents assurances Normal police officers will carefully consider their interactions with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and tell residents why officers are requesting their citizenship information, but community organizers have said Bloomington's policy will need to be different because they don't have the same level of trust with city officials.
Attendees marched from the circle to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis' office in uptown. Several representatives spoke to staffers of the Taylorville Republican, who was not at the office at the time, asking him to support a solution on immigration reform.
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Davis voted Wednesday for a bill that would have addressed the issue but failed overwhelmingly to pass the House. Conservatives opposed a provision offering a chance at citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children and said the bill doesn't do enough to limit the relatives whom immigrants here legally can sponsor for residence.
"We must expect our representatives, who represent all people, to work tirelessly to reunite these families," said Kathy King-Nobles, a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Normal. "Our laws and policies to stand up for 'the least of these' are out of alignment."
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates, called Thursday for the administration to announce a plan within three days to reunite children and parents who have been separated at the border.
Thursday's rally also drew dissent. Anthony Gambino of Bloomington attended and debated protesters while wearing a black “Make America Great Again” hat and an American flag bandanna over his face.
“We can’t take any more refugees into this country. ... What we need to be doing is working to improve conditions in Third World countries so their residents can find peace and happiness where they live,” he said. “I’m all for law and order and following the law."
The event was part of a nationwide effort to protest the current immigration policy this week that also includes events in Chicago, Champaign, Peoria and Springfield on Saturday.