Despite heat, ‘Rally to Reunite Families’ draws hundreds in Philadelphia

The fight over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies sparked protests Saturday across the country, including rallies in towns and cities around the Philadelphia region that drew thousands of people. The protests came more than a week after President Donald Trump ended the policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, instead placing families in detention centers.

Undocumented families, federal employees and children were among the hundreds who braved 95 degree heat for the Families Belong Together Rally at Logan Circle in Center City.

“We’re here to protest for all those families that are getting separated,” said 8-year old Noora Fazelinia. “At home, we talk about how lucky we are that I won’t get separated from my parents.”

Her mom, Hanieh Razzaghi, says politics are a part of everyday conversations. “We’ve tried to incorporate this as a long-term discussion ever since she was like two or three. We openly talk about race, immigration and criminal justice issues,” said Razzaghi, who was there with her parents, husband, and son.

No stranger to the immigration system, Razzaghi says her family came to the U.S. from Iran when she was two years old during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But news of the separated children, many of whom still have not been reunited with their parents, hit her hard.

“We should all be empathetic about what’s happening and aware — but as a mom you feel it so much more. It just hits home,” Razzaghi said, choking up.

With chants of “Abolish ICE!” and “Shut Down Berks Detention Center,” speakers from a variety of immigration and social justice groups addressed the crowd. Many acknowledged the country’s history of implementing policies that separated indigenous people and other communities of color, as well as the effects of mass incarceration.

Thirteen-year-old Keyri Apolonio shared her experience of being separated from her brother when the family was detained three years ago. Speaking through a translator, Apolonio described the moment when her brother, who was 12 at the time, was detained with adult men “because he looked older,” she said to boos from the crowd. The next day, “We caught a glimpse of him through a window and he was walking the hallways and he had his hands raised over his head — and it saddened us so much to see him like that,” she said through tears.

After a deportation order, Apolonio’s family took sanctuary in a church in North Philadelphia. The children of the Apolonio-Hernandez family enrolled in school in January, but their mother, Carmella, is confined to the church.

“It’s hard because you can’t go outside, to see other people” said Apolonio. “All day you’re shut up in a building with the fear that immigration might come in.”

Mary McCabe, with HIAS-PA, described another harrowing experience of families in detention.

“One mother told me that when immigration agents put her in handcuffs and ankle shackles to take her away, the hardest part was seeing her daughter burst into tears,” said McCabe. “These kids are desperate to get back to their mothers and fathers. ICE needs to free the parents now so their children can be released to them.

“Every day that more that two thousand kids are kept apart from their parents is one day too many.”

Priscilla Rosenwald said the current political climate compelled her to start volunteering to help immigrants last year.

“I’m a recruiter, so now I help immigrants navigate how to get a job” said Rosenwald. She said she was there to support immigrants and protest the administration’s policies, but said that the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy has been weighing on her. “Because I think all of us naively thought the Supreme Court was unbiased and made decisions really based on the constitution and civil liberties. It’s really upsetting that it’s so politically based and biased,” said Rosenwald.

Donna Hecker said she is also concerned about the Supreme Court. “I’m worried about marriage equality, Roe V. Wade — those are things they’re going to mess with next,” said Hecker. “I watch a lot of news and it all seems so close,” she continued.

Her granddaughters, ages four and two, might not remember everything about the rally, but Hecker says she brought them “so they can see what’s going on, that people do come together in efforts of community, rather than in efforts of separation, because that seems to be all our current administration is interested in — separating rather than uniting.”

After the rally, a group of about 50 people marched to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field Office at North 8th Street for a protest, which disbanded peacefully. It was the second protest at the Center City office in as many days. Friday, six people were arrested when they blocked the front door of the facility.

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