Above Photo: Daniel Lobo
A gaggle of far-right MAGA men showed up at a Chicago church to protest its immigrant rights work. Bad decision.
Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, is also the “epicenter for many of the organizations that are undermining America from within.” At least that’s what a far-right media activist wrote in an email published in the Chicago Tribune, after he and fellow anti-immigrant activists flew in from California to carry out a protest action. Too bad they hadn’t done their homework.
Ben Bergquam, and three other men, all dressed in MAGA T-shirts and hats and toting video cameras and selfie sticks, showed up on September 21 at a southside church to “confront Emma Lozano,” one of the men said in a video posted on Bergquam’s Facebook page. Lozano is the pastor at Lincoln United Methodist Church and a longtime immigrant rights activist. The church is located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, the heart of the city’s Mexican community.
Bergquam, a self-described “Christian conservative” and frequent promoter of far-right, anti-immigrant media, live-streamed himself standing outside the church and proclaiming, “This church is organizing the invasion of America. Elvira Arrellano is an illegal alien and she’s organizing to undermine this country from within.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tanya Lozano, Emma’s daughter who braved the street corner confrontation, responds with disbelief on her face.
Later in the video, one of the MAGA men asks Emma Lozano if she has been training people in Mexico to undermine the United States. Her response, “Absolutely not, you are delusional.”
The anti-immigrant activists, it turns out, had confused Arrellano with people associated with a different organization. Their source? Glenn Beck. The conservative pundit had been on national television earlier in the year and blamed the Chicago church for the migrant caravans, calling it an “assault” on the country.
Elvira Arrellano is an immigrant rights activist from Mexico who was living in the United States without authorization. While working at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, she and dozens of other undocumented immigrants were arrested in December 2002 in a series of government raids at the nation’s airports called Operation Tarmac.
Emma Lozano and her husband Walter Coleman, also an activist, helped organize protests during the aftermath. Arrellano fought back too, working with Lozano and Coleman. She co-founded La Familia Latina Unida, which worked closely with an organization Lozano and Coleman founded in 1987, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which stands for people (or village) without borders.
After taking part in a hunger strike and claiming sanctuary in a church ministered by Coleman and Lozano in 2006, Arrellano was deported a year later. She continues her human rights activism in Mexico.
In Trump world, no one ever admits to a mistake or falsehood. Dangerous conspiracy theories proliferate on every topic—from impeachment to immigration.
In 2009, another group, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, was founded to work with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in solidarity with the “caravans.” The Los Angeles Times reported that this other Pueblo Sin Fronteras was founded in Dallas by human rights advocate Roberto Corona.
Glenn Beck was the first to mistakenly claim Lozano’s Pueblo Sin Fronteras and Lincoln United Methodist Church were organizing migrants at the border. Since Beck’s blunder, the church has been vandalized twice and has previously been stalked by anti-immigrant zealots. But in Trump world, no one ever admits to a mistake or falsehood. Dangerous conspiracy theories proliferate on every topic—from the Russian interference in the 2016 elections to impeachment to immigration.
The murderer who shot and killed twenty-two people shopping in an El Paso, Texas, WalMart, promoted one of these racist immigration conspiracy theories, called the “Great Replacement,” which claims there is an “invasion” of non-white immigrants “undermining” the country.
Last year, the killer who shot up the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh called immigrants “invaders.” Donald Trump regularly invokes the “invasion of the country” threat in rally speeches and tweets.
In response, the Lincoln United Methodist church issued a statement: “While it is our inclination to simply ignore these distractions as we continue on with our ministries, we have been advised by many that these attacks represent an invitation to violent groups to target our church and our congregation.”
Trump has targeted “deep blue” Chicago before. It is former President Barack Obama’s one-time hometown, and a city where protesters forced Trump to cancel a 2016 campaign rally. And it’s considered a “sanctuary city.”
And Chicago, with its deep immigrant roots, has a proud history of pro-immigrant policies and practices, including outspoken support from the late Harold Washington, the city’s first African American mayor.
“From City Hall to the Chicago Public Schools, to the Chicago Police Department to Cook County government, to the Illinois governor and legislative leaders to the CTU [Chicago Teachers Union],” wrote Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, “there is resistance to helping the anti-immigrant President Donald Trump and his Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents round up folks. We argue about other things in deep blue Democratic Chicago, but not that.”
After Trump announced mass deportation raids in June and mid-July, Chicagoans mobilized door-to-door canvasses to inform immigrant communities of their rights and to share an immigration hotline. Citywide and neighborhood demonstrations were held against deportations and the “zero tolerance” family separation policies at the border, with thousands of people in the streets chanting, “Immigrants are welcome here.”
On September 26, just a few days after the MAGA confrontation at Lozano’s church, protesters rallied outside the Chicago ICE office in response to two raids earlier in the week. The newly appointed field office director, Robert Guadian, criticized the city’s sanctuary ordinance and local leaders for “putting politics ahead of public safety.” He called on residents to “challenge your community leaders.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined the demonstrators, noting that there are some 180,000 undocumented immigrants in Chicago. She rejected Guadian’s comments as “nonsense,” and added, “We will reject in the strongest terms possible the characterization of the good, hardworking people that represent the immigrant and refugee communities.”
“To characterize them as criminals and something less than they are. We won’t tolerate that,” she told the protesters.
The City of Big Shoulders didn’t shrug and walk away. It is standing its ground.