Teresa Herrera runs a food cart outside a health clinic in North Philadelphia. This week, she estimated, about 20 to 30 percent of her regular customers – undocumented immigrants – have not stopped by her cart.
“They’re afraid to leave [their homes] because they’re afraid that they’ll run into immigration who’ll take them away with no justification,” said Herrera, a leader with the New Sanctuary Movement and herself an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She said she has lived in the U.S. for 28 years and is in the process of gaining legal status.
Immigrant-rights advocates in Philadelphia say they’ve been flooded with calls since Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE began rounding up families from Central America who crossed the border illegally in 2014. Raids in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina over the weekend resulted in the arrests of 121 people, many of whom had lost their asylum cases.
“We’ve seen, I think, levels of paranoia we haven’t seen in this community in a really long time,” said Erika Almiron, executive director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Juntos.
“We started getting calls on Sunday night of having a heavier ICE presence in the city of Philadelphia – particularly in South Philly and North Philly – and our phones have been ringing nonstop,” she said.
However, in many cases, Almiron has not been able to verify whether federal immigration officials really are stepping up enforcement in the region or whether immigrants are being extra vigilant.
A local ICE official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak about the agency’s national operations, said Philadelphia was “not involved in the recent enforcement action” and has been continuing normal operations targeting immigrants with criminal convictions.
The official also dispelled a rumor that ICE had arrested a family at a supermarket in Northeast Philadelphia.
To calm fears, advocates with Juntos and New Sanctuary Movement are busy meeting with people who have called with concerns and are hosting meetings to let them know what their rights are in case ICE does show up. Members of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition are planning a rally Friday morning outside ICE’s Philadelphia headquarters to protest the national raids.