By: Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – At a time with immigration reform has many undocumented immigrants feeling empowered, a local advocacy group is calling for a moratorium on deportations following alleged FBI raids of immigrant households in South Philadelphia.
About two dozen protesters stood at the corner of 9th and Ellsworth Streets, holding signs and chanting. The group denounced an FBI operation that resulted in raids of several immigrant homes in the week morning hours on June 26th.
“We got calls starting at 6 o’clock in the morning,” says Erica Almiron (at left in photo), executive director of Juntos, a Latino-led grassroots group that pushes for immigration reforms.
“They took family members away, they took people away,” she says. “But more than anything they terrorized the community, violating a lot of their rights in the process. They spoke without interpreters, they spoke with children without their parents present and then just left them in a state of trauma.”
Almiron says children were crying and upset by the incidents, which took place in residential properties located on 7th, 8th and 9th Streets, a largely Latino area of South Philadelphia.
“The trauma that some of our children are experiences through the actions that these agents are taking will last for years,” she says. “I know people who years later cannot look at a police officer without trembling.”
Jose Luis Martinez, 10 (at right in photo), and his sister Aidee, 15 (holding microphone), both from Mexico, say they were questioned by FBI agents without their mother present.
“The FBI grabbed me, held me, pushed me back,” says Jose Luis Martinez. “I was scared because they were asking me questions. I said I want to get my mother”
“They were asking us if we were Mexican, like, what kind of Hispanic people we were,” says Aidee, “I was going through the range of emotions- they had both of us scared.”
The Martinezes say agents showed them a photo of a man and asked questions for half an hour.
“I told them I didn’t know the man,” says Jose Luis.
Almiron says many of those who spoke out against the raids are undocumented immigrants or from mixed families. She says they are afraid of retaliation from law enforcement.
“It takes courage to speak up,” she says, “there’s lots of fear that if I stand up or say something I could be also picked up by police or ICE and deported.”
FBI spokesperson Carrie Adamowski confirmed the raids on June 26th, but says they were not immigration related. She says they were a part of “Operation Pin Point,” a joint law enforcement effort between the FBI, Philadelphia police and other agencies focused on anti-gun violence. Adamowski refused to comment on whether any alleged human rights abuses occurred or on how many people were taken. She says agents had warrants for all locations searched.
A spokesman for the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office says they were not involved in the June 26th operation.