Rally airs support for immigrant kids ‘escaping for their lives’

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DAVENPORT — The circumstances are different, but the stories are the same.   Just as thousands fled their home countries during the Irish Potato Famine and the Kinder transport mission to rescue Jewish children from Germany prior to World War II, more than 52,000 children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have fled from their homes and crossed into the United States since last October, said The Rev. Dr. Christine Isham, minister at Edwards Congregational United Church of Christ, Davenport.

Rev. Isham and other faith leaders joined forces Sunday for a Love Without Borders rally in front of the statue memorializing the Irish immigrants who came to the United States during the famine.

The rally focused on showing compassion for undocumented children and teens being held at the United States-Mexico border, and was hosted by a committee spanning Christianity, Islam and Judaism and lead by the Rev. Rich Hendricks, of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad-Cities.

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Rev. Isham said the children also are seeking refuge in other countries including Mexico, Panama, Belize and more.

“We are here today from many different faiths” in solidarity, she said.

While some people treat these children as criminals, she and others proclaim that “love is without borders,” she said.

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Thousands more children are expected to flee to the U.S., Rev. Isham said. After her presentation, she said the children crossing the border are not being treated justly.

“This is just something we can’t close our eyes to… We believe they are refugees,” she said. “They are escaping for their lives.”

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Several rally attendees carried signs with phrases such as “Amnesty for immigrant children,” “We are all God’s children,” and “No human is illegal.”

At least one man was against the cause, with a sign that read “Illegal is illegal is illegal. Send ’em back!”

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Each speaker’s presentation was punctuated by calls such as “Let the children speak,” proclaimed by Rev. Hendricks. The crowd would shout the phrase back in response.

Several speakers took the mini-stage Sunday, telling stories about a girl named Alice who escaped Czechoslovakia via the Kindertransport, and a girl named Catherine who wrote a letter to her parents in 1848 about her experiences of fleeing Ireland during the famine.

“This is still happening,” said Amanda Weinkauf, pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, who spoke to the crowd about Catherine. “These stories are repeating themselves.”

Other speakers told the stories of children who are currently leaving their home countries.

The crowd heard about a 15-year-old girl named Maritza who fled El Salvador to escape a boy in a gang who liked her. The Rev. Clark Olson-Smith, pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church in Davenport, read her account aloud.

“I am here because the gang threatened me,” he read. “In El Salvador, girls are raped and thrown into plastic bags,” he read.

Another speaker told the story of a 17-year-old boy who left El Salvador because he refused to join a gang. He had already been beaten by the gang several times, and many of his friends had either disappeared or were killed after their refusals.

Speakers encouraged the crowd to write letters to their state’s U.S. senators and congressional representatives voicing their concern.

More than a hundred people gathered for the cause. Many congregated on a stretch of 2nd Street that was closed to traffic between Ripley and Harrison Streets, while others sought shelter from the sun beneath trees.

Mary Todtz, of Davenport, said she had been a host parent for more than 20 children, many of whom were from Central America.

She said she personally knows a couple of people who have fled to the U.S. from their home countries. It is sad that people think all of the children fleeing to the states are bringing diseases with them, she said. There is a middle class in those countries, too, “the same as there is here,” she said, “and they need help.”

Vince and Jill Jurgena, and their son, Jack, of Davenport, members of Sacred Hearth Cathedral in Davenport, also joined the rally Sunday, standing in a row in the street. The family said the issue is one of human rights.

“Ultimately, we’re all immigrants; some more recent than others,” Mr. Jurgena said. “If you take the politics out of this, it comes down to taking care of children.”

 

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