By Amelia Heymann and Jessica Nolte
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – After federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids led to nearly 700 arrests nationwide, about 100 Richmond residents held a rally in front of City Hall on Monday to demand that ICE stay out of Richmond.
The rally was called to support immigrants who fear they may be the next target of ICE. People at the event represented several human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Southerners On New Ground.
Speakers at the demonstration called for Richmond to be an “intersectionally” inclusive sanctuary city. Their words were translated into either Spanish or English so that all audience members could understand what was being said.
“What intersectionality means is we all have multiple complex identities, and those identities cannot be dissected,” said Rebecca Keel, a former candidate for the Richmond City Council. “We are coming here as whole people. We are fighting as whole people. We are fighting to create a sanctuary city for all people.”
“Our fight does not end right here at City Hall,” added Montigue Magruder, also a former City Council candidate. “Our fight also goes right down the street to that General Assembly there, because right now the General Assembly is considering a bill that would criminalize any city that tries to become a sanctuary city.”
Magruder was referring to SB 1262, proposed by Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg. The bill would make any sanctuary city liable for injuries and damages caused by an “illegal alien.”
“A sanctuary city shall be jointly and severally liable for the tortious injury to persons or property caused by an illegal alien within such locality,” the bill states.
“The funny thing about these people are that the people considering this bill are the same people that would say ‘all lives matter,’” Magruder said. “Now, how can they say all lives matter if they’re going to sit there and criminalize a city for trying to protect all lives?”
“All Lives Matter” emerged as a counter to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is generally considered a critique of the movement by people who say the Black Lives Matter movement neglects other groups of people, including police, who are victims of violent deaths.
The rally followed a directive signed by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney that said the city would protect and promote inclusion for all residents regardless of, but not limited to, national origin, immigration or refugee status, race, creed and sexual identity.
The directive did not officially designate Richmond as a sanctuary city, but it said Richmond police would not inquire about the birthplace or immigration status of individuals officers detain.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said a major part of the movement was to get the police on the side of the people, not just having them there to prosecute them.
“Until we stop prosecuting people for what are called ‘nuisance offenses’ – loitering, trespassing, drunk in public – we are going to have a policing system that disproportionately affects poorer communities,” Gastañaga said.
Last week, advocates for undocumented immigrants gave Stoney a petition with about 1,400 signatures asking him to take action against President Donald Trump’s executive order that blocks certain funding to sanctuary cities – jurisdictions that limit law enforcement cooperation with ICE.
On Monday, opponents of the sanctuary movement started circulating a counter petition, sponsored by the Virginia Free Citizen, a website aimed at “Americans who cherish freedom and believe in the common good gleaned from limited government at all levels.”
“Richmond, VA is hardly a place of sanctuary. It has a rate of violent crime and property crime greater than state and national average,” the petition states. “The Virginia Senate is working on legislation to stop sanctuary cities from consuming the state for this very reason – they are illegal and dangerous.”
The petition, which calls Stoney’s directive “alarming,” had received fewer than 100 signatures as of Monday night.
Many immigrants and people of immigrant parents attended Monday’s rally. They included Hector, a Richmond resident whose parents came from El Salvador. He declined to provide his last name.
“A lot of the people who have been picked up aren’t criminals. They’re just people who are here to work, people who are here to get away from unsafe situations in their own country – and they’re people who’ve been here for decades being taken away from their families,” Hector said. “I don’t approve of that.”
Hector attended the rally with his young son. He said his son decided on his own that he wanted to attend.
“I think all of us need to own the word sanctuary,” Guthrie Gastañaga said. “The administration in Washington wants to define it as a negative word. If sanctuary means anything, it means peace. That means peace in your home, peace in your streets, peace in your schools, peace everywhere you go.”