June 22

Groups show support for local immigrants

Community members across Chester County are planning a vigil to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies and to support local immigrant communities this weekend on the steps of the county’s Historic Courthouse.

A number of advocacy and political organizations are organizing the event, which is being held in the wake of the controversy surrounding the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward improper border crossings, and the forced separation of children from their parents that resulted from the policies.

The vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at the courthouse at 2 N. High Street in West Chester.

Earlier this week, President Trump signed an order rescinding his administration’s policy of forced separation, but skepticism remains in the pro-immigrant community about what is around the corner, said one of the scheduled speakers at the Sunday rally in West Chester.Angui Funes, right, sits with her brother, Jesus, after crossing the border back to Reynosa, Mexico, this week. The family ws seeking asylum, but said they were told by officials they would be separated so they voluntarily returned to Mexico. A rally against the Trump Administration immigration policies is planned for Sunday night at the County Courthouse in West Chester.

“The mood is one of fear, across the board,” said Alisa Jones, president and chief executive officer of La Communidad Hispana of Kennett Square, the longtime provider of health and social services for Latino immigrants in the county. “There is a fear of being separated, because we do have many families that have dual status” – American citizens and non-citizens whose lives could be disrupted by a policy of deporting parents and leaving children behind.

“But it is also fear of what is coming. What is the next move going to be?” Jones said. “And there is a lot of anti-immigrant hate out there. It makes people fearful not only of the present but of the future.

The rally is being hosted by the East Goshen Democrats and the Concerned Constituent Action Group, both progressive county organizations.  A coalition of action and advocacy groups from across the state are also scheduled to participate including Shut Down Berks Coalition, ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Religious Council of Greater West Chester, Way Forward, the Chester County Peace Movement, Indivisible Chester County, Make the Road Action in PA, March for Our Lives West Chester, Indivisible Berks and Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness.

A press release stated that the vigil is being held to represent a form of nonviolent direct-action protest “where participants light candles to signify the peace they want for these immigrant families. This event is like dozens more that will be held across the nation where opponents of these policies are gathering to let their voices be heard.

Jones, in an interview Friday, said she hoped to be able to tell those attending that their participation is key to bringing attention to the immigration issues on all fronts.

“I think it is important to bring together voices of different backgrounds who support families,” she said. “And also to show our commitment to staying strong and to support immigration reform.”

Her comments came a day after the U.S. House of Representatives defeated legislation that would tackle immigrant reform issues including family separation, protection for those included in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and visa restrictions. U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6 of West Goshen,, voted against the measure, which had been introduced by members of the House’s conservative caucus, but said he planned to support compromise legislation that would be taken up next week.

In the meantime, Costello said the Trump administration “owes us answers” on the fate of those children who were separated from their families since the “zero tolerance” policy was implemented in April. Estimates are that more than 2,000 children have been taken into custody – separated from their families – by U.S. officials. Families and advocates are now trying to reunite those affected.

“I believe they (administration officials) have the moral obligation to see to it that children and their parents are reunited expeditiously,” said Costello, who said he had opposed the initial separation policy.

Jones said that although those in her organization are watching the proceedings in Congress with interest, La Communidad had taken no position on competing bills in the House and Senate.

“We know we live in a diverse community,” with perhaps as many as 18,000 Latinos residing in the county. “We think that there are thousands of people who think there is more than unities us than divides us.”

La Comunidad provides health, social and educational services to members of the southern Chester County community. “The impact of broken families has long-term and irreversible damage to children in particular,” she noted. “Behavioral health and emergency services are more important now than ever as we serve the most vulnerable among us.”

The Shut Down Berks Coalition has been working to close the government’s immigration detention in Reading since 2014, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement began holding immigrant families there. Coalition representative Leo Olsen said that his organization, “stands firmly against family separation and sees these cruel and immoral policies as part of the racist deportation machine.”

Event coordinator Beth Sweet said the event would hopefully send a message to those in Washington behind the policies that have led to the family separation issue.

“There is no law that forces the administration to detain families, and there are many alternatives to detention that are available for people seeking asylum,” Sweet said in a press release. “The hundreds of people gathering at this event want the current administration to know that they want these out-of-control agencies and policies transformed into a system based on family unity that honors the humanity of all people.”