Barbecues and fireworks symbolic of America’s fight for freedom are a tradition of Independence Day celebrations in the United States. But this year, immigration activists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of America, are marking July 4 by fasting.
The interfaith immigrant rights group the New Sanctuary Movement staged a so-called “un-barbecue” on Wednesday, setting up empty plates, picnic baskets and grills around the iconic Liberty Bell to draw attention to the freedoms that aren’t shared with undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“It’s no picnic for the immigrant community in this country. They’re still lacking that liberty and justice,” said Peter Pedemonti, director of the New Sanctuary Movement and one of dozens of activists fasting for 40 days in the name of immigration reform.
“People are being separated from their families every day,” he said, noting that 1,000 undocumented immigrants are deported daily from the U.S. “That’s certainly not the liberty and justice I think our forefathers imagined and that people throughout history have struggled and fought for.”
The New Sanctuary movement is pushing the Philadelphia government to stop participating in the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, which allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] to access Philadelphia’s police database. The system helps ICE determine if suspects picked up by the police are in the U.S. illegally.
“If someone’s arrested even for a traffic violation, the information is shared with ICE, and ICE can put a hold on them and take them into police custody, then ICE custody, then deportation. It violates people’s rights to due process and a trial,” Pedemonti said.
PARS is similar to the Secure Communities program managed by ICE, which has stirred controversy across the U.S. Opponents say immigration agents are using their partnerships with local and state law enforcement agencies as a general deportation tool, rather than a way to identify criminals.
9/11 Families for a Secure America supports Philadelphia’s partnership with ICE. The group, formed after the September 11, 2011 attacks on the U.S., says concealing “illegal alien criminals from federal immigration authorities will result in the deaths of innocent Americans.”
The Philadelphia mayor’s office did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.
The U.S. Congress is debating an immigration reform bill that could help millions of undocumented immigrants gain legal status by paying back taxes and passing other requirements. The bill, if passed, also would boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pedemonti said he would welcome the relief to undocumented immigrants, but added that no amount of border security or monitoring will solve the problem of illegal immigration. That, he said, can only be addressed by looking at the reasons why people come to the U.S.