Watson Park Rally

Rep. Susan Ruiz represents the 23rd House District, which includes Shawnee. Along with KU graduate Brandon Woodard, Ruiz is the first openly gay legislator in Kansas history.

Activists gathered in Watson Park Friday evening to show solidarity with immigrants and refugees and call for Lawrence to be declared a sanctuary city. 

The event, called Don’t Look Away LFK: Immigrant and Refugee Solidarity Rally, was one of many Lights for Liberty events held nationwide, all in protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and treatment of immigrants and refugees. 

“This has been going on for a really long time, and I think that’s what people fail to understand,” said Mariel Ferreiro, one of the organizers for the event. “Yes, the rhetoric and the propaganda is up and it’s terrifying, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening.” 

Lawrence became a welcoming city in 2017, meaning the city recognizes "it is an inclusive community that values immigrants and the diversity they bring to Lawrence’s cultural fabric,” according to a proclamation from the Office of the Mayor

Now, activists are calling for Lawrence to become a sanctuary city, meaning local authorities would not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among other protections for undocumented immigrants and marginalized groups. 

Ferreiro said this change would hold city officials and law enforcement accountable from a policy perspective because it would be passed by the city commission, rather than a proclamation. 

“I’m going to ask Lawrence to be the example to the rest of this state, and to show real community safety,” Ferreiro said.  

Kansas State Rep. Susan Ruiz, who represents Shawnee, Lenexa and Overland Park, spoke at the event to share her story as a first generation American and encourage more people to run for office.

“This is a country built on us helping our neighbors,” Ruiz said. 

At the event, organizers raised over $1,000 in donations that will go directly to help immigrants and refugees living in Lawrence. 

Isabel Carttar, a junior from Lawrence studying sociology who is also a first generation American, decided to come to the rally after seeing it online.

“The fact being that I am documented and not seeking asylum puts me in a position where I don’t receive the same kind of discrimination as other people would,” Carttar said. “I definitely want to help out as much as I can with other people who aren’t as lucky and are being targeted.” 

One thing organizers emphasized is the plan to create a movement, not just a single rally. Their next event will be held Tuesday, July 23, at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Lawrence Public Library. At this meeting, they plan to form action groups for making proposed changes happen and help the immigrant and refugee community in Lawrence. 

“It’s time to put this in action,” Ferreiro said. “There are no excuses. Lawrence cannot be a welcoming city anymore, Lawrence needs to be a sanctuary city.”