By Sloane Martin, WCCO Radio
All week, WCCO Radio is tackling the topic of immigration with a series of stories from Minnesota. WCCO's Sloane Martin continues our special report: "An Undocumented Future: Support Network Helps Minnesota Immigrants."
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Protesters, marchers and demonstrators have been indefatigable. Almost every weekend in the Twin Cities has seen some kind of demonstration to the Trump administration's policies.
One of issues at the forefront motivating the persistent action has been immigrants' rights. Whether it's the proposed wall along the Mexican border or the branded Muslim "ban," thousands of Twin Cities residents have voiced that they support immigrants.
Rallies like ones held on the "Day Without Immigrants" on Feb. 16 showed the resolve to continue.
"There's power in numbers and power in the people that stand together," Alejandra Procopio, a student, said that day. "The main thing is that as humans, as mothers, as daughters, as students, whoever we are, we're here to stay. And we're here to fight for our families."
But it's not just boots-on-the-ground, take-to-the-streets organizing that's galvanized activism in the Twin Cities. Multiple grassroots, volunteer organizations are teaming up and taking action to protect undocumented immigrants through knowledge and community strength.
There are 36 sanctuary or sanctuary-supporting Christian congregations in the metro area as well as in Willmar and Worthington. Then there's the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee's "No More Deportations" campaign, which features a Rapid Response Network to respond to ICE operations in the Twin Cities area. Organizers for Cosecha Minnesota are gearing up for a possible future "Week Without Immigrants" because of the success of the original day. There are dozens more, whether new or reinvigorated, serving a growing number of concerned immigrants and activists.
Julio Zelaya, the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project Coordinator, is a community organizer working to take concerns from people and deliver them to the appropriate channels like the ACLU to make change. Working in mostly smaller towns in southern Minnesota, he's involved with "Know Your Rights" workshops which equip immigrants with information -- like their constitutional rights -- to empower them to become more active members of the community without fear. He's seen this wave of activism firsthand.
"People have become so engaged, whether that be out of frustration, whether that be out of total despair, or anxiety, whatever that might be, whatever the motivation, people are gathering in churches, people are gathering in town halls, at schools -- there's been a surge of interest organically coming up," he said.
And the empowerment and organizing is making a difference. Take St. James, Minnesota, for example, a community of under 5,000 people located 40 miles southwest of Mankato. In April, the school board passed a resolution preventing employees from asking about students' immigration status, or assisting in the arrest of an undocumented student. Zelaya said it all started when community members organized and took their concerns to Superintendent Becky Cselovszki directly. Administrators listened and worked with lawyers to craft the resolution which passed unanimously, 6-0, on April 10.
Cselovszki said in a statement to WCCO Radio: "We want our families and students to feel safe at school. We also want them in school. This resolution helped ease some worries. It is unfortunate that our families have to worry about these things, but even more unfortunate when kids have to worry about them. We hope this helps them to feel safe and focus on education."
For activists and community organizers, there's a long road ahead, but the drive will not waiver.
"I'm smiling right now," Zelaya said. "It's really been, from the standpoint of civil rights, the time of my life, I guess. I can't sit still. I'm restless. Immigration is an American value."
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