The Episcopal Church in Minnesota is calling for the removal of Bishop Henry Whipple’s name from the Fort Snelling federal courthouse that processes deportation cases — or the eviction of immigration enforcement offices from the building.
The church and other faith groups denounced the immigration court as a “deportation machine” and pointed out that Whipple, the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota who died in 1901, was known for his advocacy for Native Americans. He sought clemency for 303 Dakota men set to be executed after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, though President Abraham Lincoln still approved the killing of 38.
“The activities that go on in this building are a violation not only of the spirit of this sacred land but they are a violation of that name, Bishop Whipple,” said the Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, director of racial justice at the Minnesota Council of Churches. If the federal government will not evict U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from the facilities, he added, “we demand that you remove … this good name from this horrible building.”
Jacobs, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, noted that the area had been a place where the Dakota were detained and exiled. Whipple, he said, spoke with a prophetic voice against those who profiteered off them.
The Rev. Brian Prior, bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, described the use of Whipple’s name on the building as perverse.
“The Whipple building lies just a stone’s throw from where the Dakotas believed all of God’s creation began and where Whipple walked among the Dakota community,” he said. “We denounced the oppression against the Dakota people then and the oppression against immigrants today.”
During a vigil outside the Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building on Tuesday morning, protesters held signs reading “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God” and “ECMN welcomes immigrants.”
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security vehicle stopped to urge the crowd to move back, denying faith leaders’ request to be permitted to offer communion to detainees. The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the Lyndale United Church of Christ said the officer told them there were proper channels they could follow, but “we know that this is not true, that it is not possible to go in and see the migrants and the detainees, so we need to continue to be here to protest.”
The organizations, including the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration, said this was the start of their movement to make Minnesota the 10th sanctuary state, joining jurisdictions including California, Illinois and New Jersey in limiting local cooperation with federal immigration-enforcement authorities. The topic surfaced in last year’s gubernatorial campaign, with GOP contender Jeff Johnson saying that he believes Minnesota should work with ICE to enforce immigration laws and criticizing now-DFL Gov. Tim Walz for supporting a sanctuary state. Walz has said that Minnesotans are safer when local authorities focus on local crimes.
This year, Minnesota Senate Republicans — who control the upper chamber — sponsored a bill that would withhold local government aid to sanctuary cities, while Senate Democrats put forth a proposal to prohibit Minnesota law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. In July, a federal appeals court upheld a Trump administration decision to show preference toward cities that cooperate with ICE when awarding community policing grants.
Officials with ICE and the governor’s office did not comment Tuesday.
Congress named the building after Whipple in 1969, and a spokesperson for the General Services Administration, which oversees the building, says it defers to Congress on federal building names.
The call for dissociating Whipple’s name with the immigration courthouse comes amid a broader movement to rename public sites. The Minnesota Historical Society is considering whether to change the name of the broader Historic Fort Snelling site — but not the fort itself. The Dakota who were originally there referred to the area as Bdote. And the Department of Natural Resources changed the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the original Dakota name, though the Minnesota Supreme Court plans to review the decision.