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Immigration activists protest 'violence of separating families'

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Across Woodward and down the block from the site of the debate among Democratic presidential candidates is a church where members have demonstrated for and against government actions since before the Civil War.

On Wednesday, in Central United Methodist Church, they were at it again.

Proclaiming themselves against deporting some immigrants and in favor of churches that provide them sanctuary, about 75 people, including three current or former members of Congress, arrayed side-by-side before the main altar.

Children and others hold Stop Separating Families signs during the press conference organized by Michigan United.

Under a three-story arch bearing paintings of the 12 Apostles, they pleaded for humane treatment of immigrants, including those seeking asylum, and advocated for the reform of immigration laws.

“This violence of separating families happens all around the country, and it happens right here in the city of Detroit,” said the Rev. Jill Hardt Zundel, the pastor of Central United Methodist.

“Michigan has the second highest rate of deportations in the entire United States.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said she is concerned about changes in the country.

“There are just so many American stories, people playing by the rules, wanting to raise their family and work hard, when suddenly their worlds are turned upside down,” Dingell said. “The promise of America is about opportunity, equality, how we’re supposed to lift each family up, not tear them apart.”

She deplored conditions for people seeking asylum along the border with Mexico, criticizing the Trump administration for policies that she said have encouraged mistreatment.

“These kids are not being given food.” Dingell said. “They’re being ripped from their parents. They may never see a parent again.

“Many in this government have no intention of returning those kids,” she said. “They’re going to put them in foster care. And many of them are adopted out and their real parents are never going to be able to find them.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said her office gets calls from parents picking up children at school with unmarked ICE patrol vehicles parked nearby.

U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-Dearborn) becomes emotional as she addresses the media at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, Wednesday, calling on all presidential candidates assembled in Detroit to 'embrace bold pro-immigration policies demanded by the community.'

“Did you know it's against their own federal policy to do any ICE operations in front of schools, in front of funerals, in front of churches?” said Tlaib, a former immigration lawyer.

“And they did it in front of churches and schools in my district. They violated their own law.”

She accused the Trump administration of continuing to take children from their parents, not only at the border, but in her congressional district, which extends from Detroit to the west and Downriver.

“To take their children from their arms and separate them,” she said. “To this day, he is still doing it. I will not believe it has stopped until I see true documentation.

“I have actual agents at the border telling me they have not been told to discontinue their separation policy,” Tlaib said. “What we hear is that it continues to happen.

“So I have a 4-year-old boy that comes to me and through a glass wall asks me where his papa is: Four years old! Away from his father, who is seeking safe haven.”

Albanian immigrant Ded Rranxburgaj faces a hearing Wednesday in federal court that could determine whether he can remain in the U.S.

Zundel spoke about Ded Rranxburgaj, who took sanctuary in Central United Methodist in 2018 after living and working in Michigan for 17 years.

Rranxburgai’s wife, Flora, has severe multiple sclerosis, and they say her removal would be tantamount to a death sentence.

Up near the altar with the others, Flora, who is said to require her husband’s constant care, appeared to suffer a seizure as a former congressman from Illinois, Luis Gutierrez, spoke.

“Living in sanctuary is hard. Especially when it had been going on for over 19 months,” Zundel said about 20 minutes before the incident.

“It messes with your brain. It affects your health.”

Samad Nadeem’s mother, Shaheeda, took sanctuary in the First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo 19 month ago, after receiving a final order for deportation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“My mother is an integral part of the Kalamazoo community,” Nadeem said. “No one would benefit from us being torn apart.

“We need the leaders of this country to stop beating up on regular families like us and allow my mother to leave the church and come home.”