Woodstock candlelight vigil shows disapproval of immigrants being held in McHenry County Jail

WOODSTOCK – Under a picnic shelter at Bates Park, the glow of flashlights and candles not only illuminated the faces of those who attended a prayer vigil Sunday, they also shed a light on the defiance of injustice, community support and hope of those who chose to stand with and for the threatened “Dreamers” of the U.S.

“We stand here tonight for all of those ‘Dreamers’ that live in daily fear, unable to claim this country as their own,” said Rockford Police Chaplin Lou Ness, who is an ordained deacon in the Episcopal church. “We stand together, my brothers and sisters, in our common humanity.”

The vigil was in response to claims that McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim has violated the Trust Act by keeping immigrants in jail solely based on their immigration status, as well as the September announcement of the dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, posing a threat to “Dreamers.”

“Dreamers” are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children; however, not all are DACA recipients. 

In 2012, President Barack Obama instituted DACA through an executive order. DACA recipients were able to obtain valid driver’s licenses, legally secure employment and enroll in college. DACA does not allow recipients to acquire legal permanent residency or become a U.S. citizen, which has been criticized because it leaves people in a sort of purgatory. Recipients were able to renew their status after two years.

At the vigil’s start, Ness spoke to the crowd about the more than 800,000 “Dreamers” living in what he called the wilderness of our political debate, and called for support from vigil attendees. Carlos Acosta, former leader of the McHenry County Latino Coalition and a Democratic candidate for the County Board, translated Ness’ words in Spanish.

“I’m a member of the Democratic Party here in McHenry County, and I support DACA,” Ness said. “I don’t support the sheriff renting out space to [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detainees. It’s not proper use of county facilities. This is an opportunity to see people as people.”

Harvard resident Anna Marie Platt-Miller attended with a candle in hand and a smile on her face.

“As a Christian, it’s important to support those who are persecuted,” Platt-Miller said. “I have known and still know many ‘Dreamers.’ I support their struggles. America should be a country of welcoming. It says on the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ That’s what it should be about – maintaining the ability to work, study and live as most have been doing, and to do so without fear.”

Guatemalan immigrant Luisa Lauf, 58, of Woodstock spoke to the crowd of not only the struggles and hardships she has faced, but also of the good she has seen working in education for the past 20 years, noting that the good has been the product of all the support given by family and the community.

However, she said, there still are many advancements that need to be made.

“When I came here from Guatemala in 1989, to make one phone call was $50,” Lauf said. “Now I can communicate with friends and family as much as I want through technology. We are so advanced in technology, but we are not advanced in the support of each other.”

George Kililis, an attorney at KRV Legal Inc. in Crystal Lake, spoke to the crowd about the Trust Act. He said it was violated by the McHenry Country sheriff against his client, Niceforo Macedo-Hernandez, whose lawsuit still is pending.

The Trust Act does not allow local and state police to search, arrest or detain a person because of his or her immigration status. Macedo-Hernandez and members of his family participated in the vigil.

Kililis spoke of Prim’s unwillingness to obey Illinois law and those who are detained on the McHenry County Jail’s federally “rented” top floor.

The sheriff previously has declined to comment on the Trust Act cases outside of a statement that said he was “moving slowly and cautiously with public safety as [his] foremost consideration, consistent with constitutional responsibilities.”

“When we walk tonight, they can’t. When we go home, they stay there,” Kililis said. “It is unconstitutional, it is inhumane, and it is a violation of Illinois law.”

Attendees of the prayer vigil prayed together and joined in song, singing “This Land is Your Land,” before making the nearly mile walk to the front of the McHenry County Jail, where those being held there might have seen the flickering of their candles from the street – a flicker of hope and support.

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