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Pictured: Immigrant rights activist
Yeny Romero is a community organizer with the Pennsylvania Citizenship and Coalition group. Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

Immigration activists protest Biden at PA Dems Independence Dinner over policy failures

Local advocacy groups engaged with attendees and passersby at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, handing out pamphlets and giving 30-second elevator pitches.

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“Hi there, are you a Democrat, and do you support immigrants?” is how Katya Pérez, an immigration rights activist, welcomed folks who made their way to the Pennsylvania Convention Center at the corner of 12th and Arch streets in Philadelphia for the PA Dems Independence Dinner. 

The Biden administration arrived in PA on Friday, Oct. 28, to convene its 3rd gathering of Democratic party leaders — a roster that included Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, Senator Bob Casey, Vice President Kamala Harris, and President Joe Biden. 

But outside the confines of the thousand-dollar per plate and cocktail hour were two immigrant rights groups who attempted to converse with incoming attendees about one of the nation’s most contested policies.

Imiigrant rights activist Katya Pérez.
Katya Pérez is a Salvadorean-born immigrant rights activist. She excitedly approached passerby and gave her pitch. Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

Pérez, a daughter of immigrants who fled the Salvadoran Civil War in the 80s, eagerly approached suits and evening gowns to give her pitch. 

“It’s great they’re doing that,” Pérez said of the event as she combated another protesting group’s megaphone nearby. 

“But we need Congress and anyone connected to understand that President Biden has not done anything (...) There hasn’t been anything done with Title 42,” she added.

Title 42 is a Trump-era policy enacted at the height of the pandemic to block asylum seekers from entering the country, citing the rapid spread of COVID-19 as its chief reasoning, despite rebuttal from the CDC. Today, Trump’s migrant policy continues to be active, angering advocacy groups who endorsed the party after receiving commitments from the then-nominee.

“It’s an abuse of existing Federal health laws, twisted for immigration purposes,” David Bennion, another advocate at the scene, told AL DÍA. “Where Joe Biden is saying on the one hand that the pandemic is over and on the other hand they’re saying ‘well we have to keep out asylum seekers because of the pandemic is a big contradiction,” he noted. 

Accompanying the call to end anti-immigrant policy was Shut Down Berks, a coalition calling for the immediate shut down of Berks Detention Center, previously used for migrant family custody, now repurposed into a migrant women’s facility. 

“It’s a very easily done thing,” said Adrianna Torres, an immigration rights activist and spokesperson for the Shut Down Berks Coalition. “He is the president, and this is not a for-profit contract. It’s just a contract between the county and Immigration Customs & Enforcement, which means the president has the power to shut it down and release all the people there as he has done previously,” Torres added. 

Immigrant rights activist Adriana Torres
Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

The Berks Detention Center was scarcely used in 2021, provoking increased demands for its shutdown. But in February of 2022, the county renegotiated the ICE contract to install a migrant women’s facility in its place.

The county lost out on some revenue in renewing the contract since the renewal was priced below its original threshold. 

Friday’s event was not Shut Down Berk’s first encounter with the president. Just a few days before, the group welcomed Biden to Philadelphia in protest of the detention center and hung signs in the gate overlooking the arrival of the president’s motorcade as he campaigned for Senate candidate John Fetterman.

In August, the coalition marched to Biden’s doorstep at Capitol Hill, calling for the facility’s immediate shutdown, in addition to following through with the administration's commitment to forward comprehensive immigration policy.

Although Biden’s agenda has observed a streak of legislative victories, the administration struggles to find a means to an end with immigration. DACA, an act that protects immigrant-born children from deportation, remains at the mercy of the nation’s courts, experiencing one loss after the next. 

As the system drowns in applications, a federal court held that no further considerations would be granted to new applicants. 

“The immigrant community, as well as advocates, we’re losing hope on this presidency. They made a lot of promises and used the community to get a lot of votes,” Torres underlined. 

“We haven’t seen any of those promises delivered.” 

In 2020, then-nominee Kamala Harris also pledged to end 287(g), a controversial practice among enforcement agencies with extensively documented instances of abuse. After a closed-door meeting, Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant advocacy group, endorsed Harris. 

But in 2022, the group found themselves in protest of the administration for upholding 287(g).

Andy Kang, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Immigration Citizenship and Coalition, was hopeful of the group’s efforts at the dinner. 

“For democrats that maybe don’t track the immigration issue day-to-day, like our movement does, they may be surprised to learn that some of these policies that have existed for a long time and harm our immigrant communities are still in place,” Kang said.

“What we’re asking is for them to consider nudging along the conversation,” Kang added.

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