President Donald Trump’s rise to the White House has been accompanied by increasingly harsh rhetoric about immigration.
In response, local immigrant rights activists have decided to give Philly a taste of what the world would be like if proponents of mass deportations had their way. They’ve planned a “Day without Immigrants” (Un Dia Sin Immigrante) protest on Thursday.
“What if a good chunk of Philadelphia society was gone in one day? This is what we’re talking about,” said Miguel Andrade, an organizer with Juntos, an immigrants’ activist group that is coordinating the protest.
Immigrants will be “closing shops, not sending their children to school and not engaging in consumerism,” Juntos said in a statement.
But a dip in economic activity isn’t the purpose of the protest, they said.
“The point of this is not only to show what the effects on day-to-day life are going to be like, business and restaurants not being open, but really showing what mass deportations would look like,” Andrade said. “This is your classmate, your neighbor, your coworker — and they could easily be gone in the blink of an eye.”
In Philadelphia, some top restaurateurs have voiced support for the walk-out.
Stephen Starr, owner of Starr Restaurants, told Billy Penn he wouldn’t punish any workers who participated in the walkout. “It’s sad that it has come to this,” he said. “They should not have to live in fear.”
The Philadelphia Republican Party responded on Twitter to news of the planned walkout by stating, “We support legal immigration. We oppose illegal immigration.”
That’s a distinction Andrade rejected.
“No human being is illegal,” he said. “People think you just get in line, fill out a form, and come in the right way. But it’s a long and arduous process that costs thousands of dollars and takes years.”
Andrade isn’t exactly sure how many people will participate in the protest, but said another walkout is already planned for May 1.
Mass raids: fear or fiction?
The protest comes just days after immigration officers arrested more than 680 people around the country.
“This past weekend we saw large-scale raids happening across the country and are bracing for them to hit Philadelphia,” Juntos said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said the arrests were part of regular operations.
But immigration activists from Juntos said they expect to see “more aggressive tactics from a federal agency that is now emboldened by the racist and xenophobic speech of Donald Trump.”
While such raids have not yet been reported in Philadelphia, organizers said they have been receiving panicked texts and calls from immigrants around the city who fear such raids could take place.