‘Independence Day’ rings hollow for Philly’s undocumented immigrants

immigration reform new sanctuary movement of philadelphia
Blanca Pacheco is fasting for immigration reform. (Credit: Facebook / New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia).

Americans traditionally treat Independence Day as an observance of the country’s hard-won freedom and liberties.

But some activists say for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., there’s nothing to celebrate this Fourth of July.

“There’s a huge number of families who are not at liberty,” said Blanca Pacheco, an organizer with interfaith immigrants rights coalition the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.

“They live in fear every day of something happening. They go to work and don’t know if they will come back home, and that fear has people locked up.”

Members of New Sanctuary will on Wednesday host an “Un-barbecue” at the Liberty Bell, with empty grills, plates and picnic baskets symbolizing the lack of freedom faced by the city’s immigrants.

Advocates on June 22 launched a 40 day campaign of fasting and prayer, calling for humane federal immigration reform and for Philadelphia to end its partnership with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The voluntary agreement allows ICE to access a database of arrestees through the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System and to issue detainers for those they suspect to be undocumented citizens.

“This happens [over] a lifetime, so whenever someone is arrested for any reason – it could be running a traffic stop, having a car accident, or they make a mistake and are in the wrong place at the wrong time – immigration is able to see who these people are,” Pacheco said.

The Ecuadorian native emigrated 12 years ago in search of family sustaining job opportunities.

But because of her undocumented status, she found she was unable to attend college and lived in constant fear of deportation.

“I’m a single mother and worried something can happen to me and then I will get caught,” she said.

But Pacheco’s sense of social justice has eclipsed her trepidation.

“I do think that I have lived in fear for the last eight or nine years and I just got sick of it,” she said.

“At this point, I am willing to fight for the community that is needing, a community like me. This needs to stop happening. I think at this point, I am not afraid anymore.”

She and other advocates are hoping by the July 31 end of their fast, city officials may be ready to come to the table and discuss ending the ICE contract, which is up for renewal in August.

“It’s so easy for people to say, ‘deport them, just throw them into the trash,’ but people have forgotten we are talking about human beings and we are not here to attack this country or to get public benefits, as many people say – we can’t,” Pacheco said.

“We are here to work, and we work hard. We just want to live free of fear as a human being with dignity.”

Federal progress?

The U.S. Senate recently passed a bipartisan immigration bill increasing border security and cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers while providing a pathway to legal citizenship for some immigrants who came to America as children.

Still, the New Sanctuary movement estimates 5.5 million undocumented citizens won’t be eligible for legal status under the bill.

That includes Pacheco, who came to America at the age of 17, missing the eligibility cutoff of 16 by one year.

“So many people are really excited thinking this is it, that immigration problems are going to be resolved, but they’re not. There are good things included in this bill but also terrible things,” Pacheco said, noting the increase in funding for border protection.

“The only way to prevent illegal immigration is to have a legal way for people to come. While there’s a need, people will risk their lives. This is only going to cause more people dying.”


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