Few reports of arrests emerged from President Donald Trump’s promised deportation raids in major American cities on Sunday, but people who fight for immigrant rights in Philadelphia pledged to stay vigilant.
“I have no reason to think it’s not going to happen,” said Peter Pedemonti, co-director of the activist group New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) of Philadelphia. “They said, ‘Starts today.’ … They might be planning this week.”
Trump administration officials had warned that agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, would carry out arrests in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Houston and San Francisco, with action postponed in New Orleans because of Tropical Storm Barry.
ICE was to target at least 2,000 migrants who received final deportation orders but did not leave the country — a small fraction of the estimated one million people who have orders to go.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Saturday that ICE agents had unsuccessfully sought to take action in two neighborhoods. On Sunday, CNN quoted an anonymous Trump administration official as saying the raids had begun, but there were no immediate reports of arrests.
The sanctuary city of Philadelphia was left off the list of targets, despite its contentious relationship with the Trump administration and its large undocumented population, about 50,000 people.
“Philadelphia is a city that provides sanctuary and will continue to provide sanctuary ... to those seeking refuge in spite of what You Know Who has to say,” Mayor Jim Kenney said on Saturday at Netroots Nation, a national conference of progressives held this year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
During the last couple days, calls have poured in to NSM from people who were worried that they might be targeted by the raids. And many had legitimate fears.
“The government was successful in sending a wave of terror,” said Blanca Pacheco, co-director of NSM. “So many people are ready to fight back. ... People continue to spread the word about knowing their rights.”
She added, “We will definitely have our eyes open during the week.”
Many citizens across the country, not just officials in the Trump administration, support ICE immigration raids. They believe that those who entered the United States without permission have broken the law and must go.
But that opinion can be hard to find in Philadelphia, where a large pro-immigrant demonstration took place Friday. Hundreds of marchers shut down traffic in parts of Center City during an international “Lights for Liberty” protest against Trump’s treatment of undocumented migrants.
As people marched, NSM learned that two people in a house in Northeast Philadelphia had been arrested by ICE. A third was arrested later that day, the group said. Among those detained were a father and his young daughter, aged 7 to 9, NSM said.
There was no sign that those arrests were part of a larger ICE operation.
“These ‘raids’ have gotten a lot of attention,” Pedemonti noted, but “ICE is in Philly and across the country, arresting people every day. … For immigrant communities and nonimmigrant communities, it’s time to get involved. This is a long-term fight. This isn’t about one week.”
The ICE Philadelphia field office ranks among the most aggressive in the country, a 2018 investigation by Pro Publica and The Inquirer found.
If raids are indeed carried out, it’s likely that some of those arrested will be sent to the Berks Detention Center in Leesport, one of three family lockups in the country. The 96-bed center, which critics call a “baby jail,” currently holds about 21 parents and children.
Recent arrivals to the center, according to the advocate group Aldea — The People’s Justice Center, include a 6-year-old girl taken from her bed in Philadelphia and a 7-year-old boy who was flown from California to Pennsylvania.
“The 6-year-old described being scared when she was shook awake, and when she didn’t get up fast enough her sitter began to scream and cry,” the rights-group tweeted. “The boy was very surprised to learn how far he is away from home. He didn’t realize ICE had taken him across the country. We drew a map together for him to understand.