Immigrant rights advocates are stepping up their activism ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia, hoping the pontiff’s cachet will draw more attention to their cause.
In Philadelphia on Monday, activists from Vamos Juntos presented a report to the Pennsylvania.
“We must evaluate out moral compass as a nation,” said Erika Almirón, executive director of Vamos Juntos. “We can’t expect this pope to ignore atrocities occurring here.”
Pope Francis, who has made the plight of the downtrodden central to his papacy is expected to give a speech Sept. 26 at Independence Hall on immigration. That speech will comes amid a GOP primary that has focused heavily on U.S. immigration policy and amid a refugee crisis sweeping Europe.
At home, advocates want Francis to focus on ending detentions of immigrants who are seeking asylum and the effect it has on families.
Almiron says the issue of U.S. immigrants and of refugees fleeing war in Europe are linked.
“The very same system that causes the death of migrants in the Mediterranean also causes the death of migrants in the deserts in arisen.
On Tuesday, 100 women plan to walk from the York County Detention Center, a holding facility for migrants facing deportation, to Washington D.C. in an effort to highlight the way that detention and deportation of immigrants breaks up families. That march will be led by Pilar Molina, whose husband was detained there, only to be released by and who went on a hunger strike.
On Monday, activists from Almiron’s organization staged a small protest outside of the Philadelphia offices of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. They want the state to strip a Berks County immigration detention facility serving families with children — one of just a handful in the whole country — of its license.
They argue that the facility — which has held children as young as 11 days old — violates the law because it detains kids.
The government argues that the facility doesn’t violate the law because it is not a “secure” facilty.
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said other popes have had similar concern for the plight of migrants, but Francis has emphasized his concern for migrants through his actions, not words.
Francis famously visited the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which sees a steady flow of rickety and unsafe boats filled with migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe.
“He’s not going to wade into the national political debate,” Appleby said. “He’s going to work tochange hearts. He’ll speak to our great tradition as a nation of immigrants and remind people that we are children of God.”