Hundreds of chanting, cheering demonstrators shut down parts of Center City to traffic Friday as they joined in a day-long, international protest against the Trump administration’s treatment of undocumented migrants.
More “Lights for Liberty” protests and vigils were scheduled into the night across the Philadelphia region — less than 48 hours before the administration reportedly will begin a nationwide roundup of migrants.
Nearly 800 demonstrations were to take place in all 50 states and 13 foreign countries, with people speaking out against what they called the “concentration camps” in which immigrants are being held on the nation’s southwest border.
Local rallies and vigils were scheduled in Mount Airy, Media, and West Chester, with additional protests planned in Pittsburgh, Lancaster, Milford, Sellersville, Tioga, and Westmoreland. Protesters planned to gather in Collingswood and more than a dozen other places in New Jersey.
“I’m Jewish, so there are way too many reminders of what happened in Nazi Germany that led up to extermination of the Jewish people, and I don’t like seeing those parallels right now in our society,” said one Philadelphia protester, Jessica Gardener. “Many of the people that are being put into these camps are people that have come here seeking legal asylum from the conditions in their countries.”
Even as the march pressed forward, some 500 strong, the advocacy group New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) of Philadelphia learned that two people in a house in Northeast Philadelphia had been arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Friday, and that a married couple had been taken into custody a few days earlier.
“With or without these [expected] big raids, ICE continues to make arrests,” said NSM co-director Peter Pedemonti. “We will be accompanying affected families, raising money to get them out of detention ... and will keep fighting these immoral and cruel policies.”
The Philadelphia “Lights for Liberty” protest began around 11:30 a.m. at 12th and Arch Streets, led by chants of “Close the camps!" From there, the marchers headed to the ICE field office at 8th and Cherry Streets.
On the streets in between, they paused for speeches and chants, in Spanish and English. The crowd was loud but peaceful, and police on the scene reported no arrests or injuries.
“I just think it’s outrageous that children are being put in cages. It’s un-American,” said Virginia Rice, a retiree who lives in Germantown.
That’s a topic of heated debate in this country. Many fully support Trump administration immigration policies and practices, particularly the deportation of those who entered the United States without permission.
About 1 million migrants have final removal orders, and they must be deported, as some pose a danger to public safety, said Matthew Tragesser, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which seeks to reduce all immigration. “Interior immigration enforcement remains a top priority for the Trump administration and is necessary to hold those accountable who openly broke the nation’s laws.”
The reports of a nationwide sweep come weeks after Trump tweeted that ICE would conduct raids, then delayed the operation to see if Congress could find an acceptable solution on immigration.
In the new threatened round of raids, to start Sunday, ICE agents will target at least 2,000 migrants who have received final deportation orders, the New York Times reported.
The agency’s Philadelphia field office, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia, ranks among the most aggressive in the country, a 2018 investigation by Pro Publica and The Inquirer found.
Immigration advocates expect that if national ICE raids are carried out this weekend, some of those arrested will be sent to the Berks Detention Center in Leesport, one of three family detention facilities in the country. The 96-bed center — vilified by critics as a “baby jail” — currently holds 21 parents and children.
“The thing that we’re here for," said marcher Troy Turner, "is shutting down the Berks County detention center.”
On Friday, when the protest march neared City Hall, blocking traffic, one man climbed out of his van to shout at demonstrators.
“I gotta go to work, man!” he yelled, raising his middle finger.
Police told him to get back in his van and move on.
People of all races took part. There were babies pushed along in strollers, college-age men and women who hopped curbs and barriers, and older people who looked like they could barely take another step in the heat.
One man came dressed as a Continental soldier. Another wore a Gritty hat. One carried a piñata of an ICE officer, hanging from a stick. Demonstrators held banners that read, “No Detention in a Sanctuary City" — Philadelphia is one — and “GESTAPO ICE."
After reaching the ICE office, the crowd began to thin, and a much smaller group headed to Philadelphia Police headquarters and toward the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, before turning back toward the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Staff writer Mariah Rush contributed to this report.