About 40 demonstrators gathered in Center City on Thursday to pray and protest a federal immigration sweep that took 107 undocumented Philadelphia residents into custody last week.
Outside the office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the activists built a sukkah on the Cherry Street sidewalk. The small hut marked the Jewish festival of Sukkot, which began Wednesday evening. The weeklong holiday commemorates the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters, and celebrates inclusion, hospitality, and sanctuary.
The demonstrators’ sukkah, said Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Tikkun Olam Chavurah, a Philadelphia-based spiritual and political community, is “a house that welcomes everyone. No one needs paperwork.”
People held hand-lettered signs reading “Immigrants are not criminals” and “No hate, no fear, refugees and immigrants are welcome here.”
More than a half-dozen officers from various police agencies watched from across the street.
“We are here to tell ICE they have not broken our spirit,” said Jazmin Delgado of the New Sanctuary Movement, which assists immigrants regardless of status. “We are building sanctuary within ourselves and one another until the laws of respect and hospitality become the laws of the land.”
Federal authorities seized nearly 500 undocumented immigrants during a four-day sweep targeted at “sanctuary cities” around the county. The largest number of arrests took place in Philadelphia — 107 people caught in raids aimed at cities and states that seek to protect undocumented residents, or at least treat them like everyone else who enters the justice system.
Immigrant advocates said that targeting Philadelphia looked like retribution. The raids came a month after Mayor Kenney sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the federal attempt to withhold grant money from sanctuary cities.
ICE officials said that the sweep, called Operation Safe City, captured scores of residents who allegedly violated immigration laws, prioritizing those with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, or gang affiliations. Among those arrested were people who had committed sex crimes against children, sold drugs, and possessed weapons, the agency said.