President Donald Trump postponed his administration’s planned Sunday morning raids on undocumented migrants in 10 cities — leaving Philadelphia immigration advocates both relieved and frustrated.
“Mostly frustrated,” said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, the Latino organizing group, “at how the community is used as his political football. … The ‘delay’ makes it clearer how he’s just trying to rile up his base as election season is starting.”
The tension around the expected enforcement actions shifted as the president reversed course Saturday, and it became clear that the Philadelphia region’s immigrant communities would go untouched — at least for now.
“At the request of Democrats,” Trump wrote Saturday on Twitter, “I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border. If not, Deportations start!”
Local organizers pledged vigilance — and that they would proceed with a planned 11 a.m. Monday rally outside the Philadelphia field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. More than 500 people have said on Facebook that they will or might attend.
“We’re not going to be silenced by fear tactics,” said Sundrop Carter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, a rally cosponsor. “Families are definitely afraid, but there’s also a lot of resilience. People are organizing to fight back, and have been fighting back.”
“Trump is using the lives of mothers, fathers, and kids as bargaining chips,” said Peter Pedemonti, codirector of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. “This is disgusting and morally abhorrent. But we are not surprised. … He does not see these families as human. But we are organized and ready to work for a world where all are loved and able to live as full human beings.”
Blanca Pacheco, a New Sanctuary Movement codirector, said Trump’s threat and reversal was intentional, a means to build “a chain of terror and a psychological attack.”
“In two weeks the terror message will be sent again,” she said. “Plus I don’t trust that ICE activity won’t increase in these next two weeks.”
The Washington Post had reported Friday that federal agents plan to target 2,000 families that have deportation orders in as many as 10 major cities, beginning with predawn raids Sunday. Philadelphia was not specifically mentioned in the article. CNN also had reported that the operation would begin Sunday but said acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan had been hesitant about elements of the plan.
In the Philadelphia area, people who may already be in removal proceedings, or who have not been active in community protests, seem particularly concerned, Pacheco said, while those who have joined in organizing see the president’s comments as the same old tactic.
“We’re telling people to know their rights, what to do if ICE comes to their door, to know who to call in case they’re arrested,” she said. “We’re sharing that information.”
Since Trump took office, deportation officers have been freed from an Obama-era mandate to focus on removing immigrants with serious criminal convictions, making almost any undocumented migrant a potential target.
Nowhere have federal agents more aggressively embraced that freedom than in the Philadelphia field office, which covers Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware, an investigation by ProPublica and The Inquirer found.
Philadelphia alone is home to about 50,000 undocumented immigrants, roughly one of every four foreign-born residents, according to the Pew Research Center.
“His bully and intimidation tactics have caused a lot of uncertainty and suffering within the immigrant community, but our members and allies remain strong,” said Juana Mora, a Reading-area organizer with Make the Road Pennsylvania, an advocate group. “In Allentown, Reading, and Philly, we are holding training for allies and immigrants to know their rights when it comes to encounters with ICE.”
Advocates advise people: If ICE officers knock on your door, don’t open it. If the agents say they have a warrant, ask them to slide it under the door. Should you be stopped by officers outside, do not answer questions or sign any papers. Say only that you wish to speak to a lawyer.
In May 2018, federal authorities arrested 49 immigrants in a seven-day operation in the Philadelphia region, seizing those who they said had committed crimes, faced pending criminal charges, or had been previously deported. Fourteen had been earlier released from custody in Philadelphia despite having ICE detainers lodged against them – a continuing source of friction, as Philadelphia demands a signed judicial warrant before turning over anyone.
A year earlier, when federal authorities took away nearly 500 undocumented migrants during a four-day sweep in 10 sanctuary cities, the largest number of arrests — 107 — took place in Philadelphia. Authorities said some of those arrested had committed sex crimes, sold drugs, or possessed weapons.
On Thursday the Kenney administration declined to comment on possible enforcement actions by the Trump administration.
Across the country, millions of people fully support the ICE sweeps and removal operations, saying that undocumented immigrants — whether they have been here a day or a decade — need to be sent back to their homelands and attempt to reenter the United States through official channels.
Unquestionably, a greater number of undocumented members of families and children traveling alone have been apprehended at the border: 96,049 in May, compared with 28,082 in October, the start of fiscal 2019.
During that time, overall monthly apprehensions more than doubled, up from 60,777 in October to 144,278 in May, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
But sending federal agents after migrant families fuels the anger among immigrants and their supporters. Almost six million U.S.-citizen children live with a parent or family member who is undocumented, and enforcement actions against them — real and threatened — carry serious emotional and economic repercussions for the youths and for the larger community, according to the American Immigration Council.
"Past raids have left children alone and afraid in empty homes, praying they won’t be left to care for younger siblings by themselves, with no idea if they’ll see their parents again,” said Sandra Cordero, director of Families Belong Together, a coalition that opposes Trump’s immigration agenda.
Like other sanctuary cities and states, Philadelphia seeks to treat undocumented immigrants the same as everyone else who enters the justice system. The Kenney administration refuses to have city police assist in enforcing federal immigration laws.
A year ago, the city fought and won a federal lawsuit over the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold government law-enforcement money unless the city agreed to help detain immigrants. In July Mayor Jim Kenney announced an end to a controversial city contract that allowed ICE agents to access a key law enforcement database, known as PARS, and use that information against undocumented local residents — a move that federal officials criticized as irresponsible.
Last month, the president used a Capitol Hill ceremony to claim that prosecutors in Philadelphia and Chicago don’t go after dangerous criminals, prompting District Attorney Larry Krasner to invite Trump to debate criminal-justice reform.
The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Juntos, Asians American United, and the Shalom Center, among others, are organizing the Monday rally, called “When Trump Cracks Down, Community Fights Back!”
They say the threat of mass deportations, coming right after Father's Day, shows the administration’s lack of humanity and violence toward people of color.
“We’ve known from day one that this is a president who is committed to attacking immigrant and refugee communities,” Carter said.
People who may be undocumented should take whatever precautions they deem necessary to stay safe, she said.