President Donald Trump’s threatened mass deportations of undocumented migrants drew more than 100 protesters Monday morning to the sidewalks outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Center City, where they vowed they would “fight back,” as
one organizer declared, against a “violent, racist government’s attacks” on foreign-born residents.
“We’re here today to send a message to the administration that we are not going to stay quiet.... We are ready to rise up," said Blanca Pacheco, co-director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a coalition of faith-based groups that led the demonstration.
The rally was originally announced on Facebook last week, after Trump stated on Twitter that he would direct ICE to carry out raids in major American cities to round up and arrest undocumented immigrants. The sweeps were to begin Sunday in 10 urban areas — Philadelphia was not said to be among them — but the president then delayed the action for two weeks, reportedly after an appeal by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, members of the administration also indicated that the raids were put off in order to protect the safety of ICE officers.
On Saturday, also via Twitter, Trump warned that the “Deportations start” if lawmakers do not “work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border.”
Asked if the delay had affected the rally, Pacheco said, “We’re still enraged because we know this threat [that Trump] has sent is a political game for him, and he’s not thinking about immigrants as human beings.” She added that the threat remains and that “ICE is still active in our communities.”
Miguel Andrade, communications manager for the immigrant advocacy group Juntos, said that Trump’s announcements had created “panic” among Philadelphia’s immigrant population.
In a news release announcing the rally, New Sanctuary said that Philadelphia’s ICE bureau is “the most aggressive in the nation.” The Inquirer and ProPublica found this to be the case in a 2018 investigation, based on the number of immigrants not convicted of crimes who were arrested by the ICE field office in the city.
Other organizations represented at the rally included the Council on American-Islamic Relations Philadelphia, Asian Americans United, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and the Shalom Center.
The rally, which took up the block of Eighth Street between Cherry and Appletree Streets, was peaceful. While some protesters spilled out into the street, a lane was kept open for motorists to pass. Among the signs carried by demonstrators, some called for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “to go"; others proclaimed “Don’t look away” and “Families are meant to stay together."
During the rally, some speakers referenced their faith or cultural history as reasons for joining New Sanctuary’s rally.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder of the Shalom Center, told the crowd that acceptance of immigrants and refugees is found in the traditions of many religions, including Judaism. The Jewish Bible, he said, decrees that "one law shall there be: for the immigrant and the native.“
Alix Mariko Webb, executive director of Asian Americans United, held a sign showing Apaches imprisoned in the 1800s, as well as Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II. “And today, 2018 and 2019, 1,400 children are being moved from the southern border to Oklahoma, to be in a camp again,” said Webb, who later added that her mother had been born in an internment camp, and that she was at the rally to ensure history would not be repeated.
One of the final speakers, who addressed the crowd via videochat, was an undocumented immigrant named Suyapa Reyes, who spoke in Spanish about her ordeals with ICE and the threat of deportation.
“We want peace and freedom. ... I was always following what [ICE] told me to do, bringing all paperwork; they told me they would deport me and take my children away,” she said.
The rally concluded with three marches encircling the ICE building. Organizers said they were meant to symbolize the Biblical story of Jericho, when the Israelites circled the walls in a “nonviolent action” before the “walls came tumbling down.”
New Sanctuary had asked Jewish attendees to bring Shofars, instruments made of a ram’s horn and blown during the High Holy Days, as a wake-up call for repentance or action. At the rally, the first and third marches began with representatives from the Shalom Center blowing the Shofar, and multiple blowings were sounded at the rally’s close.
This is not the first time that protests have occurred outside ICE’s Philadelphia office. Last July, hundreds of people set up camp there, calling for Mayor Jim Kenney to end a contract with ICE that lets the agency use Philadelphia’s criminal records database. That day, police arrested 29 of the protesters; a few days later, the “Occupy ICE” encampment was raided by police, with officers uprooting tents and destroying the site. Later that month near City Hall, another protest was staged; it was shut down by police on July 31.