Mayors champion immigration; activists march against Trump

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Among those who traveled far, Tomas Martinez from the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights leads fellow demonstrators in a chant at an immigrant advocates march in South Philadelphia near Capitolo Park. Activists called for executive action halting deportations.

At an immigration forum timed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, Mayor Kenney merged the personal and political Monday.

Moderator Maria Teresa Kumar, of the civic media group Voto Latino, was into her introduction, noting that Kenney's youthful experience as a dishwasher and busboy gave him empathy for immigrants in low-paying jobs.

"And I," Kenney piped up, "had the benefit of not being afraid that the police were going to come and [deport] me."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio got personal too.

"I am the grandson of a southern Italian immigrant [who] always had a very thick accent. [He] would have been easily profiled.

"Anyone who thinks they don't have an American story that at one point involved discrimination in the sense of coming from the wrong place, doesn't know America's history," de Blasio told the audience of about 140 people at the Museum of Jewish American History on Independence Mall.

Kenney and de Blasio were joined by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton; David Lubell, who leads the national immigrant-integration group Welcoming America; and Geisha Williams, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executive, who was 5 when she fled Cuba with her parents in 1967.

While the panel was unrelentingly upbeat about immigrants, it also addressed some municipal challenges.

"As we speak here today, Philadelphia does not have one Latino police captain," said Kenney. "That would make a huge difference."

And there needs to be "a connection from the ethnic communities to their government," he said. "Not just because I'm the mayor and think it's a great thing, but because when they go to a desk at Licenses and Inspection there is someone who can speak their language and give them less fear when dealing with the bureaucracy."

Kenney drew applause when he took on Republican nominee Donald Trump's rhetoric about taking back America.

"Take the country back from whom? From the black guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Whose country is it in the first place? If anything, it's the Native Americans' country before we got here," he said.

Earlier Monday, local immigrant advocates and allies from as far away as Georgia, New Orleans, and Chicago marched four miles from South Philadelphia to City Hall.

Carrying signs emblazoned "Be the anti-Trump," they chanted slogans for a moratorium on deportations and the closure of an immigrant family detention center in Berks County.

The activists called for President Obama to use his executive power to immediately halt all deportations.

"A nursing mother in detention shouldn't have to depend on the election results to know freedom," said Erika Almiron, executive director of the local Latino advocacy group Juntos.

Holding a banner, Jesus Esparza, 42, said he came to Philadelphia with 25 members of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, an advocacy group.

"I am undocumented for 26 years. I work in landscaping, maintenance, painting, construction," said Esparza, who was born in Mexico and was 16 when he came to the United States with his older brothers.

". . . We need to tell Hillary that if she wants to be president we need a moratorium on deportation."

Philadelphian Joe Small, 57, a retired firefighter, who worked 22 years with Ladder Company 16 in Fishtown, was walking past City Hall when he came upon the demonstrators.

"I was watching what they were talking about and I couldn't help myself," he said. "They were comparing Melania Trump to illegal immigrants, and Melania is not an illegal immigrant. She is a legal immigrant. That's all I said."

When it looked as if the situation might get heated between Small and a Latino man who were getting in each other's face, civil affairs police stepped in and encouraged Small to walk away.

Small said he will vote for Trump, even if his pledge to deport all 11 million undocumented people in America can't be accomplished right away.

"If you got a leak in your house, what's the first thing you do? You fix the leak," he said. "We have to build a wall or some form of deterrent to keep them from coming here illegally. That's what's happening. We're being overwhelmed."

mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1