‘Lights for Liberty’ vigils, protests draw thousands rallying against ICE raids and border camps

Marchers in Philadelphia said they were trying to “catch the attention of those who can fix broken immigration laws.” 

A scene from the 'Lights for Liberty' vigil in Collingswood, N.J. on July 12, 2019

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

Updated July 13

The national Lights for Liberty campaign brought out thousands of people across the Philadelphia region on Friday. At daytime marches and evening vigils, they were protesting the anticipated raids 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.

Upwards of 300 marchers swarmed the Pa. Convention Center at 12th and Arch in Center City at around noon.

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.”

Evening Lights for Liberty vigils were held in several locations around the Delaware Valley, including Knight Park in Collingswood. Organizer Adam Sheridan estimated that event attracted another 300 or so people.

A vigil attendee in Collingswood holds a sign hearkening back to her ancestors' experience

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

In attendance were N.J. Congressman Donald Norcross, who spoke about what he’s doing to help the situation; Burlington County Freeholder Balvir Singh, who shared his personal experience as an immigrant; and Jeff DeCristofaro, executive director of the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice, who talked about about the legal challenges many immigrant faces — and what to do if raids do happen on Sunday.

Collingswood, NJ - JULY 12, 2019. People from the Philadelphia area gather for a vigil as part of the nationwide movement Lights for Liberty in Collingswood, NJ on Friday July 12, 2019. Lights for Liberty is a nationwide movement that gather outside the concentration camps and local communities. (Miguel Martinez/WHYY)

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

Two posterboards at the vigil held letters imploring Norcross and N.J. Congressman Andy Kim to take action to force the Trump administration to close the so-called “concentration camps” at the southern U.S. border and elsewhere. They garnered dozens of signatures throughout the night.

lightsforliberty-iceprotestvigil-miguelmartinez-12

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

Earlier in the day, the crowds at the Philly march swelled so large that a 48 SEPTA bus was forced to detour from Arch Street.

As protesters 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. Among the marchers was Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

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.”

A dog holds a sign at the Collingswood vigil

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

Congressman Donald Norcross spoke at the Collingswood vigil

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

The Collingswood vigil attracted a crowd of around 300 people

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

lightsforliberty-iceprotestvigil-miguelmartinez-15

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

lightsforliberty-iceprotestvigil-miguelmartinez-09

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

lightsforliberty-iceprotestvigil-miguelmartinez-02

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

lightsforliberty-iceprotestvigil-miguelmartinez-04

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

lightsforliberty-iceprotestvigil-miguelmartinez-06

Miguel Martinez / For Billy Penn

Freelance photographer Miguel Martinez contributed reporting.