Hundreds of protesters gathered in Rittenhouse Square on Tuesday evening, hoping Vice President Pence would hear their demands, and do something to end President Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pence was in Philadelphia for a fund-raiser at the Rittenhouse Hotel with the Republican Governors Association, where he voiced his support for Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, Scott Wagner. Outside the hotel, protesters spoke for the more than 2,000 children who have been heard only in screams and tears.
The Inquirer and Daily News were on the scene, talking to protesters about what compelled them to join the rally. Answers have been edited lightly for style and clarity.
Brian Lee, 37, Somerset, N.J.
“Last night I heard the leaked audio of the children, of the migrant children that got torn from their parents, and they were wailing and crying. I have seen immigrant families cry and plead for their loved ones, but that was one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever heard. I’m so incredibly upset about it. I just felt compelled to come. But the thing is, family separation doesn’t just happen at the border. ICE is ripping away parents and even children away from parents all over the U.S.”
Maribel Sindlinger, 45, West Philadelphia
“This is actually my very first big protest. I have this huge fear of crowds. But the amount of fear that the little children are feeling is tenfold what I could possibly feel for a crowd. I am here for the most innocent, because we’re better than this, because I have hope that Americans find gentleness and compassion to those who are the most vulnerable in society, as a world society. They are children, for goodness sake. I love my daughter. My daughter and my husband are here with me. They’re both over there in the center of the crowd. I’m on the edge because that’s a little too much for me. But I cannot possibly begin to imagine having her being divided from us. It’s unimaginable.”
Nadia Mozaffar, 31, Philadelphia
“I am here because I have done a little bit of asylum and immigration work and have heard so many stories of why people come to this country and the horrors that they face when they’re coming here. I think we need to treat them better than this. I think that the narrative created by this administration is completely false and we need to be sharing what is actually happening.”
Mari Menkin-Schmitt, 10, Philadelphia
“Kids are in detention homes and they are being separated from their families, and some of the parents are being sent back to Mexico or other places where they’re from. Some of these kids aren’t getting to see their parents again, and I just think that’s really sad.”
Stephen Gliatto, 26, West Chester
“As a Roman Catholic, I find the policy of these child detention centers especially reprehensible after Attorney General Sessions cited the Bible — that line he quoted from the letter to the Romans about keeping the order of the land. The whole premise of Christianity is that there is a higher order than the law of the land, and we’ve cited that for centuries throughout our history. The fact that this administration rides on the back of Christians who believe like myself and look like me is disheartening. I want to at least be the voice of a Christian who knows that poor and the stranger should always be welcome and never cast out. That’s why I march.”
Savion Wilson, 12, Elkins Park
“I am at this protest because it’s very wrong to keep someone in captivity because they came here to find a better life. America is here because of immigrants. People think that life for a lot of people started in America, but the reason why America is the strongest nation in the world is because a lot of immigrants gathered here to make the land of the free. But recently it doesn’t really seem like the land of the free, because they are locking up children from families who just wanted a better life.”
Maria Fordyce, 54, West Chester
“I have a heart and I will speak up for the mothers and fathers who can’t defend themselves. It’s a crime. It’s a crime. I am an educator and a mother. One of my education jobs is teaching ESL students who have come into this country. Some of them have been in refugee camps, and I know a lot of their families’ stories. They are not criminals. They are not coming into this country with drugs. I am sure some are, but not my students. They are struggling to just live safely and bring their children to safety, instead of running from the worst things. Using children as obstacles, like, ‘Ahh if you give us a deal, Democrats, then we’ll stop doing this,’ that’s criminal.”
Cayla Barry, 22, Chestnut Hill
“If you’re watching, then how are you not outraged? The fact that this is even a policy, to separate children from families, is a ridiculous exercise of cruelty. … If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. It’s really that simple. How can we be in the position to value one life over another? I think a lot of people that are doing that. or that are complicit in that, need to take a hard look at themselves and where their morals are.”
Nabi Moghadam, 46, Bryn Mawr
“I am here to uphold the sanctity of the family against Trumpian-Pencian attempts to rip the fabric of the family apart. I just feel very strongly that we have to take a stand against this criminal policy of family separation and the creation of these dreadful concentration camps for kids. This is a tipping point, first of all because it involves children, who I believe should be sacrosanct at all times, and because it’s just an accumulation of horrors. That’s all I can say. I comprehensively oppose the Trumpian regime, but this is a moment that really calls out the most visceral feelings of disgust.”
Patrick Doran, 40, Lafayette Hill
“I am here because this zero-tolerance policy is a naked attempt to use children as a pawn for a game being played in Washington. It’s immoral. It doesn’t represent anything that I thought this country stood for, and it has to stop now. The more that we shout and scream might force people to listen. Maybe we can change a few minds. I don’t doubt that Trump is going to close his ears to it. … It’s not enough to be angry. You have to raise your voice. Maybe I should have raised my voice more when people I voted for … did bad things — and I realize that. But there is no excuse for this policy. There is no excuse for what’s happening. There needs to be a wider debate about immigration policy, but we can do more than one thing at once. We can stop separating families. I have small children. It’s child abuse, it’s kidnapping. We’re all complicit in kidnapping, and that’s something I cannot just stand by for.”