Demonstrators on opposing sides brought the hot debate over immigration - and what to do about the soaring number of Central American children surging across our southern border - to a Center City sidewalk Friday.
About a dozen members of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, led by president Teri Adams, of Elkins Park, assembled outside the Bourse Building, which houses the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia.
They carried signs - "Invasion is not a human right" - and an open letter to Mexican Consul Carlos I. Giralt calling for Mexico to halt the flow of immigrants, including "unsupervised children" who cross the border "with the aid and encouragement of your government."
Giralt was in Mexico on business. Deputy Consul Juan Gabriel Espejo said the letter would be reviewed.
On the sidewalk a few yards away from the tea party-led protest, about 100 members of pro-immigrant support groups, including the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia and the Latino-support group Juntos, sang, prayed, and shared loaves of bread in a counter rally.
Although some members of the two groups exchanged snarky comments, there was no violence. A handful of Philadelphia police civil affairs officers were on hand to supervise, in an atmosphere that seemed more like a carnival than an angry protest.
But there were clashing points of view.
As Adams was telling news crews that President Obama's $3.7 billion supplemental appropriation for the border crisis should be used entirely to "send them back," Robert Brand, 68, of Mount Airy, sniped: "She is talking about children in fear for their lives. We call them refugees. It is the job of adults to protect children. Giving up on that is a serious societal mistake."
People who provide social services to unaccompanied minors say many of them are fleeing deadly gang violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
At a nearby outdoor table, Jim Reynolds, a retiree from Florida, who for 35 years ran an antiques store in Lambertville, was having lunch.
"I think people should come to this country, legally," he said, bemused by the street theater. "But if I was down there [in Central America] in that danger, I'd try to get in here, too."
The demonstration led by Adams with the support of a national political action committee was part of the PAC's "National Days of Protest." The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC said it had planned about 300 actions for this weekend at state capitals, on highway overpasses, and outside consulates and lawmakers' offices. On Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., for instance, demonstrators plan to hold banners on the Route I-95 overpass, near Exit 1, in Boothwyn.
Immigrants and their supporters said Friday that their counter-demonstration showed "the City of Brotherly Love will not tolerate anti-immigrant hate from fringe groups who seek the mass deportation of immigrant children and families."
About an hour into Friday's standoff, the pro-immigrant groups began streaming away.
"Our goal was to show that love is bigger than hate," New Sanctuary spokeswoman Nicole Kligerman said. "Having sung and prayed, it was time to disengage."