This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
About 150 protesters concerned about immigration issues met Monday morning at Capitolo Park in South Philadelphia to march to City Hall. They are demanding the closing of Berks Family Detention Center in Leesport, Berks County, and an executive order from the president to put a moratorium on deportations.
The Berks Family Detention Center is a facility that detains immigrant families seeking asylum in the United States. The center has been operating without a license since February, and immigration advocates are fighting for it to be shut down and the families to be released.
The march was led by Juntos, the #Not1More Campaign, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Congress of Day Laborers and others. Protesters also came from Chicago and New Orleans, as well as Tennessee.
Students and advocates talked about the impact that deportation has on students and what schools can do to help.
Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, says that state budget funds need to be reallocated to education instead of detention and deportation.
“We don’t think it makes any sense to be detaining or deporting off of our budget,” she said. “We should be investing that money into our educational system. And also, rather than incarcerate communities of color, Black and Brown people, we should also be using that for our educational system.”
For Jennifer Tlacopilco, a first-generation Mexican American student at String Theory Charter School, having her mother and father see her succeed with an education is paramount.
“We work hard,” said Tlacopilco. “Because we want our parents to see how successful we are and we want our parents to be in this country, because they have worked so hard for us. And they came to this country to give us this education. It’s important for us. We need to be somebody.”
She also said she would like to see more interest and support from schools for students concerned with deportation.
Hiram Rivera, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union, believes the control of schools should be returned to the communities they serve as a remedy for zero-tolerance policing in schools that puts undocumented students at risk of being deported.
“The first step we need is local control,” he said. “Dissolve the [School Reform Commission], provide an elected school board that is accountable to the community, that is accountable to the people. That can assure real community voices, real student voices and decisions” are being heard at School District headquarters.
The gathering made its way through South Philadelphia and Center City to the north side of City Hall.
As the march died down and the crowd dissipated, Almiron offered one last call to action.
“There are educators out here who can stand with our community,” she said. “In moments like this, it’s important for the whole community to be united. Parents are doing it, students are doing it. We want to see more educators coming out standing up for young people.”