PILSEN — Pilsen Pastor Emma Lozano was about to step out of Lincoln United Methodist Church Saturday to attend a League of United Latin American Citizens event when she noticed a camera crew of men wearing Make America Great Again hats outside her door.
The group of five self-described supporters of President Donald Trump, led by conservative pundit Ben Bergquam of Frontline America, traveled from Fresno, Calif., to Chicago because they believe “Chicago is the epicenter for many of the organizations that are undermining America from within,” Bergquam said in a statement.
They were specifically searching for Lozano, president of the immigrant advocacy nonprofit Centro Sin Fronteras in Pilsen, a neighborhood that is predominantly Latino and a historic port of entry for Mexican immigrants.
At one point, a confrontation between the Trump supporters, church members and Pilsen neighbors became heated and Chicago Police were called to the scene.
In front of the church at 2009 W. 22nd Place, the right-wing men accused Lozano and her group of “training illegal aliens in Central America and Mexico to break into America,” though they did not present any evidence of their claims.
The men appeared to be mistaking the Chicago-based Centro Sin Fronteras — which was founded as Pueblo Sin Fronteras and is also known as Familia Latina Unida — with a transnational organization of a similar name that “promotes accompaniment, humanitarian assistance … and know-your-rights training along migrant routes,” according to their website. The latter group contends it helps guide and protect caravans, but activists working for the group have been arrested while leading migrants into Mexico from Guatemala, according to Newsweek.
Lozano said her organization has no affiliation with the transnational organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras and she doesn’t know anyone from that group. She said she thinks she was targeted because she has helped provide sanctuary to refugees and undocumented immigrants who are appealing deportation.
“There’s been a series of reports by right-wingers that say that I have been paid millions of dollars by [Democrat] George Soros to pay for the caravans from Central America,” Lozano said incredulously, referencing a claim made by conservative host Glenn Beck that was debunked by Newsweek in April.
“They actually put my face up, they give out our addresses … they put a target on my back and the back of the church so that white supremacists know exactly where we are.”
When the pastor refused to exit her residence, the men, each one streaming live on social media, entered the church and recorded the premises. Back outside, they engaged members of the church, including Lozano’s daughter, Tanya, who came to her mother’s defense and questioned their motives for being in the Pilsen church. Tanya, who operates fitness-and-dance studio Healthy Hood out of the church’s basement, was in the church when the men walked in.
After exiting the church, the Trump supporters argued with Pilsen residents for almost an hour on the sidewalk, saying Lozano is enabling “illegal” people to immigrate to United States, inciting reactions from the bystanders of Mexican descent for their online audiences. The live video posted on Frontline America’s Facebook page reached 46,000 views in 24 hours.
“You just came here to stir up trouble … to agitate,” Tanya said in the video. “… Why are you here?”
One of the Trump supporters responded, “‘Cause it’s a free country for citizens. … We’re doing an investigation on people who are breaking our laws.”
“They need to leave, this is our neighborhood where we live,” Tanya said.
“Illegal aliens need to leave. Follow the law,” one man said off camera.
When 10th District police officers arrived on scene, they watched the heated exchange for almost 20 minutes, video shows. Tanya asked the police to ask the men to leave, but they were standing on a public sidewalk, asserting their First Amendment rights, the men said. No report was filed.
The church members eventually went inside. The Trump supporters shook the officers’ hands, the video shows.
Lozano, sister of labor activist and community organizer Rudy Lozano, who was murdered in 1983, said the incident was dissapointing.
“When your freedom of speech is laced with venom and lies, I think we have to challenge that,” Lozano said. “When you come into a place like that, you’re provocateurs. That should be a crime.”
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), himself an immigrant, said he showed up a few minutes later and was “dismissed” by the police sergeant on scene when he asked about the incident. Sigcho-Lopez then called police Cmdr. James R. Sanchez, who told him it wouldn’t happen again.
“We have zero tolerance for terroristic messages of white supremacy or white nationalism. … Our police department must take their presence as the serious threat it is. Officers responding to threats like this must be robustly capable of defending residents who are indispensable and contributing members of our world-renowned cultural fabric and vibrant neighborhoods,” the alderman said. “I will work with our police department to ensure every officer is equipped to respond with the vigor to unequivocally defend our community members from these types of incidents in the future.”
The Chicago Police Department did not respond to requests for comment about the incident Sunday.
It’s not the first time that Lincoln United Methodist Church has been targeted because of its immigration work. In past years, swastikas and anti-immigrant messages have been scrawled on church property.
On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security added white supremacist violence to its counterterrorism strategy.
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