MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Clergy and immigration activists in Minnesota are trying to remove the name of a revered bishop from a federal building where hundreds of deportation orders are issued every year, calling the Trump administration's immigration crackdown an affront to his memory.
The Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling houses the Minneapolis-area offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. It's named for the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, who persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to pardon most of the 303 Dakota Indians sentenced to death after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, though 38 were still hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
Now the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, the Minnesota Council of Churches and others want Whipple's name taken off the building — or the eviction of ICE and its immigration courts. They're planning a vigil and news conference outside it Tuesday to launch the "What Would Whipple Do?" campaign. They'll also call on the Legislature to declare Minnesota a sanctuary state.
"We believe that Bishop Whipple is turning over in his grave," said Daniel Romero, a volunteer leader of the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration and ministerial candidate with the United Church of Christ who's been a lead organizer. "Bishop Whipple himself would never have endorsed his name going on a building where so much fear and terror is manifested."
It's not unheard of for names of historical figures to be taken off buildings and other landmarks or for monuments to be removed when history judges the person to be less than honorable. But removing the name of a venerated figure from a building because of what goes on inside puts a new twist on the bitter U.S. immigration debate.
Whipple emerged from the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota war as a leading advocate for justice for Native Americans. So it's "intolerable" that a building named for him is now a place where immigrants arrested in five states are brought to court and eventually deported, said another organizer, the Rev. Devon Anderson, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior.
The current Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, the Rt. Rev. Brian Prior, said he's concerned about how immigrants are being marginalized "in a building under the name of our patriarch, who was so clear that this is not who we are."
The Associated Press left messages for three potential Whipple descendants without any immediate response. Diocesan spokeswoman Kelsey Schuster said she reached out to one Whipple descendant who wasn't interested in commenting.