In terms of immigration and fear mongering, it’s hard to believe America has ever witnessed anything like the past weekend. On Sunday, threatened ICE “raids” took place in bumbling fashion in New York and elsewhere, and the president of the United States extended his “zero tolerance policy” by telling a group of United States congresswomen they should leave the country. All this at the end of week that saw new footage of people in cages at the Mexico-Texas border, rising anti-immigrant and hatespeak toward Rep. Ilhan Omar and others, and an almost hourly real-time crash course in the history of America’s immigration and deportation policies.
At the same time, the “Lights for Liberty” movement held vigils around the country Friday night, as the Colorado–based band Let Them Roar’s “I See My Light” song and Minnesota songwriter Ted Hajnasiewicz’s “Meltin’ Pot” sought to find sympathetic ears. Meanwhile, fundraisers were being held for Minnesota musician Sota Smoove, who was arrested and detained by ICE last month, and as fate would have it Sunday, Loring Park hosted the annual Twin Cities World Refugee Day, which organizers described as “a family-oriented day of celebration that highlights the stories, arts, and cultures of the thousands of refugees in Minnesota and the light they bring to our community.”
MinnPost took in the celebration, in words and photos:
Nadia Almosawi, the Iraqi-American Reconciliation Project: “We’re a nonprofit located in Minnesota that brings together Iraqis and Americans to learn from each other in friendship. I think today is important because I feel like people have lost the touch of love and respect for one another, especially given all the news you hear on a day-to-day basis. Our organization brings that back and says, ‘Let’s keep our differences aside and focus on the fact that we’re all humans, and focus on making this a better place for everyone to live in.’”
Nimo Asyare, Episcopal Migration Ministries: “We are not here just for newly arrived refugees, but for people who have been here for five years, and for people like me, who came here from Somalia and have been here for more than 20 years. There’s something for everybody — knowledge, experience, getting to know different cultures. I’m from Somalia originally and practically raised in this country, but I swear to you working with [EMM] I’ve gotten to know about so many cultures. I came here as a refugee, and I swear to God I feel like I’m part of this community and part of this country, and it was because of people who accepted someone like me and made me feel like I’m at home.”
Natalie Ringsmuth, founder and director, #UNITECLOUD: “St. Cloud used to be called ‘White Cloud’ when it was just folks like me living there, and now we’re a more diverse city, and these are some of the stories of people in our city that came to America as immigrants or refugees and are now working and living in the St. Cloud-Central Minnesota area. Especially after the New York Times article, we were so happy that we have this set up. Yes, there are hateful people in St. Cloud; we all understand that and we all live that, but at the same time there’s so many people who are introducing the option to love your neighbor, instead of fear your neighbor. It started four years ago with just a blog, and now we have 750-plus (“Love Your Neighbor”) signs all over Central Minnesota. It’s a simple concept. I never thought I’d run an organization where the literal concept was to love your neighbor. You’d think that’d be a given, but in this day and age and in our political climate and in the climate in St. Cloud, people need that reminder.”
Cecelia Calametti: “I’m the civic engagement coordinator for [event host and sponsor] CAPI USA, a multi-service nonprofit. We’re located in Brooklyn Center, and we’ve primarily served immigrants and refugees, since 1982. So many of the people we work with are either unfamiliar with the Census or are scared due to the fear that’s come out with the citizenship question and all the confusion around that. So we’re really working to try and change the narrative around the Census from something that the government does to a community and to something that’s empowering and something that you’re doing for yourself. It’s another way for people to make their voices heard. Many of the people we work with are not currently eligible to vote, so they haven’t met that citizenship requirement, and the Census is another way to make sure that their community has a say in the funding and services that they’re receiving.”
Minnesota state Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin, addressed the crowd: “Being called a refugee is not an insult. It is a badge of honor, courage, and strength. Refugees are not terrorists. They are escaping terrorism to come to America, where the Statue of Liberty is supposed to be waiting with open arms.
“So let’s talk about Minnesota. Minnesota has the highest number of refugees per capita nationwide, period. Since 1979, Minnesota has welcomed refugees from more than 100 countries, and immigrants are vital to Minnesota’s labor force across industries. Immigrants and refugees own eleven percent of businesses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Immigrant entrepreneurs in Minnesota generate nearly a half a billion dollars annually in business revenue.
“We will not let people be held in cages like animals. We are better than that. We are Minnesota. We are Minnesotans.”
Michelle Rivero, director of Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in Minneapolis: “I’ve practiced as an immigration attorney for about 18 years, and I have never seen an administration that so consistently terrorizes communities as I’ve seen during the course of this administration. How real are these [threatened ICE raids]? Minneapolis was not identified as one of the target cities; however, I have been part of many, many community meetings over the course of the weekend and before as well, and there is the reality, which is that ICE agents are engaged in enforcement activities, perhaps not as large a degree that you would call it a raid, but there are regular enforcement activities and people need to be connected to legal resources and people need to know their rights. If people want more information, feel free to contact the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Minneapolis is a welcoming city, and this is part of the way we show that we are welcoming, by standing up for our immigrant and refugee communities.”
Edmundo Lijo: “I’m an assistant city attorney with the City of St. Paul, but I am also working for Welcome St. Paul, the immigrant and refugee program. I think a lot of the federal policies are creating a lot of fear and apprehension in our communities, and when there’s fear and apprehension, people are afraid to come out. They’re afraid to live in the community, and that’s not good for anyone. We’ve always been a community of immigrants, we’ve always been a very welcoming community, and we want to continue to make sure that people here can prosper.”
Dina Mousa and Alex Sevett, Center for Victims of Torture. “Here in the Twin Cities as well as around the world, our clients are refugees and asylum seekers, so we feel it’s important for us to be here to show our support for refugees, immigrants, and asylum-seekers,” said Sevett. “I’m from Egypt, and we have a really horrible human rights record, and I volunteer with this organization because I think it’s really important that everyone knows that torture doesn’t work and no one should be subject to torture because they have an opinion about the government, or want to protest,” said Mousa.
Aisling Reynolds: “We’re part of the International Institute of Minnesota, and for 100 years this December we’ve been helping to resettle asylees and immigrants and refugees to the state of Minnesota. We provide English language classes, a nursing assistant training program, a citizenship department that teaches classes and also helps people with all their paperwork, and we also run Festival of Nations.
It’s important to be here every year, and during this time, it’s great just to have voices be louder and for others to know that there is help and support and that there is help and there is support and there is a community of people who want refugees and who want immigrants to be in our state and in our country.”