Immigration Rally Against Deportations on Eve of Feast of Virgin of Guadalupe
Philadelphia – The winds buffeting a seven ft. banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, made especially precarious the effort of hoisting it aloft, Wednesday, as a group of fifty immigration reform advocates and Dreamer activists followed the banner of the patron saint of Mexico and Latin America, from the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul to the 16th and Callowhill branch offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The unwieldy banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe was perhaps a reminder of the tortuous twists of the comprehensive immigration reform debate, as well as how Farmworker leader Cesar Chavez used that same symbol of hope and patriotism.
Chanting alternately in Spanish and English, “Ni Una Mas Deportaciones,” or “No more Deportations,” or “We are Here and We Are Not Going,” the group led by the Juntos organization, progressed through streets where temperatures had dropped to below freezing, until they reached the rear-garage entrance of the ICE office and placed the banner a few feet from the entrance, making vehicle exits virtually impossible.
The act of civil disobedience was accompanied by a half-dozen of them kneeling on the banner and reciting the rosary, as others huddled around them. Among the group praying at the ICE garage were, Javier Garcia, a coordinator for worker health and safety with Philaposh; Amanda Armenta, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Penn; and Veronica Castillo-Perez, former Director of the prominent organization Raices Culturales; and Salvador Sarmiento of NDL.
An ICE officer appeared as the group concluded the recitation of the rosary, and within an hour six more officers arrived, as the garage door opened to permit the departure of an ICE vehicle. The demonstrators, however, made it clear they were staying, and a standoff ensued that lasted several hours.
Despite indications -as far back as August of 2011- that the administration was adopting a more judicious approach to deportation, one that focused on criminals, Javier Garcia says the deportations have continued unabated, albeit, “sort of under the radar.”
“You don’t hear about it in the general media, but we hear about it from families that come to the office of Juntos to ask for help.” said Mr. Garcia.
“Many of these deportations go unnoticed, but I’m told the numbers are there if you look at the statistics,” continued Mr. Garcia.
“What Juntos is trying to do is to stop the unjust deportations. And today’s march is very symbolic because tomorrow is the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” noted Garcia. “We come with the faith that we are going to have a better life here in the United States. But instead we come to an unwelcoming society, where they don’t want us here, and the deportations are a reflection of and evidence of that.”
“So the goal is to send a message,” added Mr. Garcia, “that the Virgin Mary hasn’t forgotten us; and as immigrants, we come into this country as human beings looking for a better tomorrow for our families.”
Standing opposite the ICE garage door, Miguel Andrade of Juntos, recalled the pain of seeing his father deported back to Columbia: “i’m here stop deportations because I don’t want to see any more kids separated from their moms and dads.”
A nearly identical story was offered by Maria Toredo: “When I was a little girl my dad got deported, and it really hurt me. I don’t want any other kid to feel the same way I did,”
“It is incorrigible to deport people who could benefit from Comprehensive immigration reform, if Congress and the President could ever get its together,” said University of Penn Asst. Professor Amada Armenta.
Dressed in several sweaters against the cold, Veronica Castillo-Perez’s voice bristled with anger as she referred to the absence of action on Immigration, “I’m here because I’m a third generation citizen of this country. I’ve voted every year for my leader and I’m asking my leader to come home and take care of immigration issues.”
Salvador G. Sarmiento, a Campaign Coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organization Network, focused on how deportation were, “tearing families apart.”
“We know how many abuelos, padres, hermanas, hermanos y amigos,( grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers and friends) have been deported.”
“We know that here in Philly there have been issues, especially with police collaboration with ICE,” noted Mr. Sarmiento. “We have to fight these deportation policies at all levels of government,” because they are “tearing our families apart.”
“We are fighting against ICE and Police collaboration because that’s another way that they terrorize immigrants and minority communities,” added Mr. Sarmiento. “So we are here specifically to put our bodies in the path of these deportation vehicles, so there are no more transfers that happen while we stand here, and set an example of how to stop deportation.’
Sarmiento elaborated on the “damage” to immigrant communities by law enforcement collaborations. “Half of Latinos in major US cities are less likely to reach out to the police if they are victims or if they are eye-witnesses to crimes,” he noted, “because they are afraid the police will ask them for their immigration documents or about their immigration status.”
“That’s unacceptable. When the community cannot talk to law enforcement, that’s a crisis of law enforcement. Law enforcement cannot do their job if people fear them,” argued Mr. Sarmiento, who then urged the administration to issue a “pause in deportations.”
“The President and many in Congress have forgotten that people like us also contribute, but he has allowed these deportations to be carried through,” said Mr. Garcia. “ And it’s not fair and it’s not right.”
Of the continued pace of deportations, Garcia observed, “the people who end up in trouble are people who have nothing to do with any sort of violation, crime or aggravated crime. But many families end up paying the cost.”
Although the number of unauthorized immigrants crossing the U.S. border has dropped to a forty-year low, Immigration enforcement authorities report detaining and deporting ‘record numbers’ of undocumented immigrants in 2011 and 2012. According to the “Office of Immigration Statistics” of DHS, 391,953 foreign-born persons were deported in 2011 and more than 370,000 in 2012. Of the 391,953 deportations in 2011, roughly 188,000 of them had been convicted of crimes in the U.S., an “all-time high.”