By: Andrea Sears

PHILADELPHIA – Responding to ICE raids that targeted sanctuary cities, immigrants’ rights advocates gathered outside the agency’s Philadelphia office yesterday for a prayer vigil.

Last week, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out “Operation Safe City,” rounding up almost 500 undocumented immigrants around the country.

According to Peter Pedemonti, executive director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, the raids concentrated on cities that have passed laws or resolutions to help protect immigrants from deportation.

“They targeted sanctuary cities,” he says. “In total, 107 people in Philadelphia were taken. This is very sad, when they’re tearing apart families as a form of political retaliation.”

In a statement, ICE director Tom Homan said sanctuary cities are “shielding criminal aliens and creating a magnet for illegal immigration.”

But Pedemonti believes that Philadelphia’s designation as a sanctuary city has served the public good.

“It’s reduced deportations, kept families together,” he adds. “It makes us safer as people have more trust in the city and the police, and it would really seem to benefit our whole city – for everybody, not just immigrants.”

Immigrants’ rights advocates say insisting that communities aid in enforcing federal immigration policy creates distrust and prevents people from seeking health care, reporting crimes or testifying as witnesses.

Operation Safe City was intended to send a message to sanctuary cities, and Pedemonti says the prayer vigil sends a clear message back to ICE.

“Our strength is in coming together, our strength is in connecting with our faith traditions, and making sure ICE knows that we’re not going anywhere,” he states. “That they need to be accountable, and they can’t do this without anyone fighting back.”

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