Bearing signs reading "Mercy for Immigrants" as they shouted their anger at President Trump's "white supremacist" administration, around three dozen advocates rallied on Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall at noon Monday.
The day was originally the deadline to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects the young undocumented immigrants known as "Dreamers" from deportation. Other events have made that deadline moot and placed the status of the 690,000 Dreamers in limbo.
Also at noon Monday, about 40 people demonstrated at Rutgers-Camden. Similar rallies were held in Newark, N.J., Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and dozens of other locations across the United States.
"We are going to speak out and not just wait around for Congress and the president to decide our fates," Marissa Pina Rodriguez, 28, said in Center City. Rodriguez, most recently a paralegal who lives in South Philadelphia, was brought to the United States from Mexico by her family when she was 1 year old. When Trump initially announced in September that he would end the DACA program, it meant that Rodriguez and the other Dreamers might have to return to where they were born.
"Does that make any sense?" she asked in the sunny but blustery plaza. "I shouldn't be forced to live in Mexico. I was raised in this country."
Also at the rally, Bethany Welch, executive director of the Aquinas Center, a South Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to diversity, said Dreamers live in "an exhausting state," adding, "They're on an emotional roller coaster, living with a lot of anxiety."
Not long ago, people thought March 5 would be the "most toxic" of days, Welch said.
When Trump announced Sept. 5 that he was ending DACA, he declared a six-month delay to allow Congress to act on his decision. But several federal judges ruled that Trump's rationale for ending DACA was flawed, and all existing DACA permits were ordered to be renewed. Then late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the Trump administration's request to take up the question of whether the judges' findings were correct. So, March 5 lost its great portent.
Still, immigration advocates thought it would be a good time to rally.
Speaking in Camden, Alma Aparicio, 19, described how her mother carried her inside a blanket beneath a gate at the Mexico-United States border when she was 3. The family took a bus to Camden, where Aparicio's uncle lived.
"I don't have anyone that I remember in Mexico, and my primary language is English," said Aparicio, a Rutgers-Camden sophomore majoring in English and planning to attend law school. "Having to go back to Mexico would mean having to alter my life completely."
In Center City, Maria Sotomayor, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, an alliance of 50 organizations, exhorted supporters to "show unity, stay resilient and strong, and remember we decide our lives."
"Immigrants are here to stay."