The target of the protest was not just the ICE office, but Pomegranate Real Estate, who leases the 35,000 square foot office to the agency, and the Greyhound bus terminal at 10th and Filbert streets, who the group believes has been complicit in excessive ICE enforcement strategies.
Marta Guttenberg said she was inspired to attend the protest because of the treatment Ismail Ajjawi, a Palestinian-born student accepted to college in the United States experienced at the hands of ICE.
“ICE was preventing a talented, intelligent young Palestinian man from starting at Harvard in the comfortable way that his good record and good grades and early acceptance should have permitted,” Guttenberg said.
Guttenberg said that when Ajjawi arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport, he was interviewed by an ICE agent who read messages on Ajjawi’s phone and determined him to be a threat.
“He was put on a plane back to the Middle East,” Guttenberg said. “It took the actions and the outcry of people in favor of justice, some work by Harvard, and this exclusion was rescinded. [He] came back in time to begin the new semester. This shouldn’t happen. This is one of ICE’s irregularities that we know about, and worst abuses are happening that we don’t know about.”
Scott Williams, an organizer for the Philadelphia Worker’s Solidarity Network, said that ICE was essentially running concentration camps organized by corporations.
“These are the same companies that make profits by incarcerating people of color and working class people. So we’re trying to say that the entire mass incarceration system is wrong, and no company should be doing businesslike this, and no company should be profiting of this,” Williams said.
Williams also took direct aim at Michael Willner, the owner of Pomegranate Real Estate.
“We’re here to tell Michael Willner it’s time to cancel the lease with ICE,” he said. “You don’t need to be making millions of dollars off ICE, there’s plenty of other people who will lease your building, and it’s time to say that we don’t need ICE here in Philadelphia.”
Neither Willner nor a representative from Pomegranate Real Estate returned a request for comment.
Williams said the Philadelphia ICE office was one of the most active in the county, leading to more deportations for nonviolent offenses than almost any other office.
Addressing supporters and passersby with a megaphone, organizer Ted Kelly said that the Philadelphia ICE office had rounded up hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants and asylum seekers in the tri-state area.
“This organization has no place in our city,” Kelly said. “If Philadelphia is going to claim to be a sanctuary city that provides safe have for migrants and asylum seekers, then there is no place for ICE in Philadelphia.”
After demonstrating outside of Arch Street, the group of nearly 50 demonstrators, escorted by the Philadelphia Police Department’s Civil Affairs Division, made their way to the Greyhound bus depot on Filbert Street.
Over the objections of a lone security guard, many of the activists entered the bus terminal. Kelly then addressed those waiting for their buses.
“We’re not challenging bus riders going to their location,” Kelly said. “We’re all in the same place. Even the bus drivers don’t want to collaborate with ICE, but their corporate bosses have been requiring them to collaborate with ICE. It’s on us to prove to our class and to migrants that we will not let ICE on our buses.”
Demonstrators then handed out leaflets that outlined passengers rights should ICE enter their bus, while police warned that the demonstrators needed to leave the premises or they would be arrested.
The protest continued outside the depot on Filbert Street, which had been shut down by the police.
After the protest, Kelly said the demonstration had been very effective.
“I think you can tell from the reaction we got when we entered Greyhound,” Kelly said. “Once they realize that there’s a collaboration between Greyhound and ICE, they were horrified.”
Kelly said the Philadelphia Workers Solidarity Network is an organization that give people an outlet for their concerns regarding the state of the city and the nation.
“With everything that is happening now, it’s so easy to get discouraged, but if people see one group fighting, they can join the fight,” Kelly said.
Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.
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