Marchers said they were trying to “catch the attention of those who can fix broken immigration laws.”
Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn
Hundreds swarmed the Pa. Convention Center at 12th and Arch in Center City Philadelphia on Friday. They were protesting the anticipated raids expected to begin this weekend by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, as well as federal law enforcement’s treatment of immigrants in detention centers at the border.
Edward Deliman stood out among the crowd, wearing a clergy collar in the near-90 degree heat. As an auxiliary bishop to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he’s spent 27 years in parishes with large immigrant populations — like Saint Agnes Parish in West Chester and Visitation Bless the Virgin Mary in Kensington.
“I’m here today to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters down at the border,” Deliman said. “You gotta do whatever you have to do to catch the attention of those who can fix broken immigration laws.”
From the beginning, crowds swelled so large that a 48 SEPTA bus was forced to detour from Arch Street. As protestors marched from the Convention Center to City Hall and then to ICE headquarters at 8th and Arch, police scrambled to block traffic, first on North Broad and then on Market Street.
The protests created a domino effect from nearby Jefferson Station to the southern tip of the city — shuttles to the Navy Yard became “extremely delayed.” Some of the drivers caught in traffic emerged from their cars to heckle the protesters.
All the while, folks chanted calls to action in both English and Spanish. And there were plenty of callouts against local facilities, like the Berks detention center and Vision Quest — a controversial immigration facility that wants to open in North Philadelphia despite reports of a hostile culture for children and staffers.
The rally coincided with Netroots Nation, an annual conference for progressives that was held this year at the Convention Center. Thus, the protest was broadcast on a national stage — and some attendees were Philly visitors.
Ranil and Dharini Abeysekera — conference attendees and community printers from Berkeley, California — were pleasantly surprised when they stumbled into the protest. As first-generation immigrants from Sri Lanka, the issue hits them hard.
“It’s the way refugees are being treated all over the world,” Dharini Abeysekera said. “But this is our situation so this is our local protest. We’re proud to see Philadelphians joining in.”
On Friday evening, people will gather all over the region for more Lights for Liberty rallies and vigils.