More than 100 people gathered in downtown Davenport on Sunday for an interfaith rally to support children fleeing Central America to enter the United States.
Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba urged the crowd at the “Love Without Borders” event to “work for social responsibility.” He and local social service leaders helped launch the initiative in July when he suggested that the Quad-Cities host some of the immigrant children, mostly from Central America, who are crossing the border from Mexico into the United States to escape violence and poverty.
Several people who attended the hour-long rally carried signs, including “No human is illegal” and other placards that read simply “God is love.” The rally was held in front of the Irish Memorial near 2nd and Harrison streets in downtown Davenport, where a statue is dedicated to Irish immigrants.
“Each person, each child, has inherent worth,” said the Rev. Christine Isham of Edwards Congregational United Church of Christ, Davenport. “We are here today because some would treat these children like criminals,” she said. “We are here today because we believe love has no borders … to give voice to the voiceless.”
Gluba said Congress must take a holistic approach to immigration reform. “We need the equivalent of a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Central America,” he said, referring to the United States assistance in rebuilding Europe after World War II.
The Rev. Rich Hendricks, of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad-Cities, talked about the importance of storytelling. “It is through stories that we come to a better understanding of who we are,” he said. “We are here to hear the stories of our children.”
Several other speakers, using a first-person approach, told the stories of immigrant children. “Let the children speak!” Hendricks said. Supporters joined in shouting “Let the children speak!” after each story was shared.
Among the speakers was the Rev. Amanda Weinkauf of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, who told a story about a woman who emigrated to the United States during the Irish potato famine and motioned to the nearby statue. “The father’s tattered shoe speaks to their impoverishment,” Weinkauf said. “The mother’s hand is clasped over her mouth, choking back fear, or grief or both.”
Rabbi Henry Karp, of Temple Emanuel, Davenport, spoke about the Kindertransport, or children’s transport, a rescue mission for Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Europe that took place nine months before the outbreak of World War II.
Others read stories from immigrants of El Salvador and Honduras.
Dr. Lisa Killinger, president of the Muslim Community of the Quad-Cities, gave a call to action. “We do need to act,” she said, and talked about various ways people can help support the cause.
Bishop Martin Amos, head of the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, led the group in prayer.
“In your mercy, strengthen them in their weakness with your signs of love. Keep them safe from the weapons of hate,” he said.
At least one person in the crowd did not support the cause. Gene Axnix of Moline, carried a large sign that read “Illegal is illegal is illegal. Send ’em back.”
“I don’t understand what these people here don’t understand about ‘illegal,’” he said. “We’re a nation of laws. They are breaking the law. Send them back.”
Sister Mary Bea Snyder, Congregation of the Humility of Mary, spoke with Axnix. “My message is different from his,” she said. “We’re all children of God. All brothers and sisters … just as he is my brother.”
She said she is grateful “that we have a mayor willing to put his job on the line for social justice, especially for children.”