As a first-generation Nigerian American, Isabella Ntigbu is well acquainted with the immigration system.
That compelled her to attend a rally on Friday in Center City against the nation’s immigration policies and detention centers.
“I’m a child of immigrants, so this is very important to me,” said the Howard University student from New Jersey. “I just don’t feel like any country should be participating in any kind of system where they are breaking apart families for whatever reason.”
The rally was part of the nationwide action “Lights for Liberty,” where communities organized individual events condemning President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies and the mass incarceration of undocumented immigrants.
But the gathering focused on local issues, too, said Miguel Andrade, a member of the immigration advocacy group Juntos that helped organize the rally. Other organizers included POWER, Philly for REAL Justice, Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Protesters’ demands included ending white supremacy, police brutality, stop-and-frisk and gentrification; supporting transgender and LGBTQ issues; and closing the Berks Family Residential Center, a 96-bed ICE detention center near Reading.
“We need to talk about more issues than just immigration right now,” Andrade said. “We need to talk about all the different ways that white supremacy is affecting our communities.”
Shortly before noon, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center at the corner of 12th and Arch streets, where the multi-day Netroots Nation convention brought together thousands of progressives from throughout the nation.
Traffic came to a standstill on Broad and Market streets as hundreds of protesters marched and chanted to the sound of drums and shakers around City Hall to the ICE field office located at 8th and Cherry streets before continuing on to Race Street.
While Africans were often excluded from the immigration debate, they remain a “significant portion of those immigrating to the United States and also a significant portion of those who are being targeted and ultimately deported,” said Timothy Welbeck, a civil rights attorney for the Philadelphia chapter of CAIR, at the rally.
Blacks, as a historically disenfranchised and oppress people, should “unite with those who are disenfranchised as well” and “we should be willing to come and stand in solidarity with marginalized groups,” Welbeck said.
While speaking before protesters outside the ICE office, Karla Rojas, 25, shared a letter from an immigrant teenager named Victor, who called for the end of family detention centers after spending more than 700 days in the Berks Center “full with worry and desperation.”
“We need to fight,” said Rojas, a member of the national immigrant organization Cosecha. “This is happening under our roof, in our communities. We need to be aware of what’s there.”
The protests on Friday came days before scheduled nationwide raids to arrest and deport undocumented migrants, which President Trump called a “major operation,” according to The New York Times. The sweep was expected to occur in nearly a dozen cities.
In an email, Adrian Smith, a spokesman for the ICE Philadelphia field office, declined to discuss enforcement operations.
Smith said ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present undocumented immigrants “who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” but he warned that others can get caught up in raids.
“However, all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and — if found removable by final order — removal from the United States,” Smith said.
Since Trump first issued threats of an immigration crackdown months ago, Andrade said Juntos has conducted community trainings to ensure people know their rights.
Andrade advised people not to open their door if ICE agents knock because agents cannot enter without a warrant.
Although Andrade did not believe Philadelphia is among the cities to be targeted in this weekend’s sweep, he cautioned that there was no way to know when a raid may occur.
“So we need to make sure that, one, our communities know what their rights are,” he said, “and that our allies are willing and ready to fight back in case they see any raids or police stops happening.”