Reflection: Putting our bodies on the line to stop Nutter’s deportations

On Friday, December 11, 2015 in Philadelphia, eight New Sanctuary Movement members and supporters – undocumented people, clergy and citizens –  sat down at the public entrance and exit of City Hall in a non-violent direct action to protest Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s deportation plan.  Police promptly jumped on the group and pushed, kicked, and dragged the peaceful demonstrators across City Hall by the neck.  The group blocked the entrance of City Hall until the end of the day – and successfully stopped Nutter from re-starting Philadelphia’s local deportation program on that day, as he had planned. Although the fight against Nutter’s deportations continues, that day we won the battle.

After the action, one of the immigrant participants, Carmen Guerrero, was immediately taken to the hospital because of injuries sustained from the police.

As those risking arrest sat blocking City Hall and recovering from the police violence, the New Sanctuary Movement community shared stories about deportation and family separation, songs of faith and social justice, and prayed together for a world where every family has the right to remain together and live a dignified life. At the end of the day, we spoke with Mayor Nutter’s Chief of Staff who confirmed that the mayor would not sign the deportation Executive Order that day as planned.

New Sanctuary Movement members Estela Hernandez, Mario Lopez, Carmen Guerrero, Lauren Ballester, Pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin (pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church), NSM organizer Nicole Kligerman, teacher Tyler Brelje, and Beth Patel from the Philadelphia Student Union stood strong against the police violence and shut down City Hall because every day families are dragged out of their homes, workplaces, cars, and streets and deported away from their families. Deportations destroy communities and disgrace our faith values of justice, dignity, and hospitality. They create a horrific scar across our country and those in power must be held  accountable for the enormous destruction deportations have caused.

Estela, an immigrant mother who participated in the direct action with her husband Mario, reflects “We did it for the well-being of our children and for so many other children. After that day, we are moving forward with courage, faith, and strength. I know that we are going to win something positive for all immigrants in this country,” Estela said. “I’m tired of so many injustices and humiliations that we suffer as immigrants. That’s why we participated.”

Tyler, an Arabic teacher and an ally to the immigrant community, shared his experience as a participant in the direct action. “Our organizers and supporters facilitated a space to share – providing food and water for our bodies, communicating information to inform and connect us, singing to embolden us – there was a community holding us up. In that space created by every hand and voice present, I was blessed with the opportunity to listen to Mario, to Beth, to Estela, to Nicole, to Carmen, to Lauren, to Amy and to so many others tell their stories. After the dust settled, the cameras left and we remained, something beautiful happened. I was invited to listen. I was invited to listen to truth telling about the violence NAFTA wreaked on Carmen and so many other families who suffered economic exploitation, about the brutality and apathy of Philadelphia’s police that Mario suffered on multiple occasions. For someone, conditioned to speak over and silence others, I found real liberation in listening in the space we shared. Thank you all for sharing your stories and speaking your truths.

The police violence is a public demonstration of the violence experienced every day by immigrant communities, black communities, Muslim communities, and other communities of color through police brutality, mass incarceration, and mass deportation. Nutter’s insistence that he will use his last days in office to re-start collaboration with federal deportation agents furthers this violence.

Although Nutter was applauded across the country when he signed a historic Executive Order in April 2014 ending all collaboration between the Philadelphia Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement after six years of community organizing, Nutter decided it was politically expedient to start local deportations again with just weeks left in his administration. As we fight back against the anti-immigrant fascism embodied by Donald Trump, we cannot forget that it is via Democrat leadership under Nutter and President Obama that 1,100 people are deported each day. While Nutter publicly battles Trump, it is our mayor that is swiftly moving to deport families out of our city in the false name of “public safety.”

The non-violent direct action was an escalation after weeks of community organizing to push back against Mayor Nutter’s about-face on immigration in his last weeks in office. As members of the Philadelphia Family Unity Network, the coalition that won the pro-immigrant Executive Order, we organized a big rally, got 105 organizations to sign onto an open letter rejecting any changes to the Executive Order, received support from other politicians like Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, and delivered a “People’s Executive Order” for Nutter to sign with a 48-hour ultimatum two days before the direct action. The Philadelphia Family Unity Network includes 1 Love Movement, Juntos, New Sanctuary Movement, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney has vowed to immediately undue any changes that Nutter makes as soon as he takes office in January. Some have asked why we risked arrest when Kenney promises to undue Nutter’s unjust changes. While we are heartened by Kenney’s support of immigrant communities, we cannot permit anyone to be deported in the interim. One deportation is too many.

As a result of this community organizing from diverse immigrants, allies, clergy and people of faith across Philadelphia, we’ve pushed back Nutter’s deportations for 4 weeks. This has kept countless families together. In the waning days of Nutter’s administration, we will keep up the (non-violent) fight against his deportations and then continue to work for more justice for immigrants in our city, state, and country.

New Sanctuary Movement works in a long lineage people of faith committed to social justice organizing led by communities directly affected by unjust policies. We cannot sit idly by while our friends, families, and neighbors are violently uprooted from our communities. We put our bodies on the line and risk everything for more love, justice, and family unity.