Peoria’s diversity was on full display during a pro-immigrant rally at the Gateway Building Sun.
About 120 people gathered to listen to a lineup of 10 speakers that included local physicians, activists, and students.
2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar was also in the lineup. His father immigrated to the US from India. Pawar, a Chicago alderman, says only in America could an immigrant’s son be elected to City Council.
“Illinois has a long and storied history of resettling refugees and being welcoming to immigrants, like my family," Pawar said. "My perspective is we need to be a welcoming state, we need to make sure we’re protecting our friends, neighbors and families from the federal government.”
Pawar is one of six candidates in the Democratic field for the 2018 race for governor.
Pawar says Gov. Bruce Rauner should take steps to make Illinois a more welcoming state for immigrants and refugees.
“There are governors around the country, including Governor Cuomo, who’s talked about making sure that we pass legislation like the Illinois Trust Act, one that makes sure that we secure and protect the lives of immigrant and refugee populations,” Pawar said.
The Illinois Trust Act would limit the involvement of local police departments in federal immigration enforcement. It’s pending in general assembly. Gov. Rauner, a Republican, hasn’t taken a public stance on Pres. Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and travel from six Muslim-majority countries.
The American Immigration Council estimates that nearly 1 in 7 Illinoisans are foreign born. Almost half of them are naturalized US citizens who are eligible to vote.
The 10 speakers from different backgrounds and professions injected statements that, in essence, said “we are part of this community” or "you depend on us."
Two physicians, Rahmat Na'Allah and M. Jawad Javed, highlighted that one in four doctors in the US are foreign born. In Illinois, that number is higher, at 30 percent.
The children of immigrants also had a strong showing at Sunday night's event. During the candlelight vigil following the evening's speeches, Rasheeda Na'Allah held a candle beside her mother, Rahmat.
"I used to want to go into medicine," Rasheeda Na'Allah said. "But I kind of want to go into business now."
Na'Allah, a 7th grader at Dunlap Middle School, says Pres. Trump's rhetoric and policies aimed at immigrants and Muslims have had an effect on her plans for the future.
“We went to this one rally, where we were talking about women’s rights," Na'Allah siad. "And I think it would be cool to start a gym for women to have fun, and let loose."
Another student, Serene Musaitif, says she also plans on starting a business. Musaitif, a culinary arts and business junior at ICC, says she wants to open a Palestinian restaurant, so she can share her heritage with the region.