Armed with water, sunblock and tents, protesters on Tuesday endured scorching summer temperatures for the second day as they blocked the entrance to Philadelphia’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Center City.
Twenty-nine people were arrested and skirmishes broke out when Philadelphia police attempted to clear the scene, according to officials. Those taken into police custody received citations and were released, police said. Two people sustained minor injuries during the arrests.
The demonstration comes on the heels of nationwide protests over the weekend calling for ICE, which was created by President George W. Bush in the wake of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to be dismantled.
Locally, protesters also want Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to shut down the Berks County Residential Center, which continues to operate amid questions about its licence to operate and its treatment of immigrant families detained there.
The facility, located in Leesport, is operated by the county but houses people under federal custody. Wolf and other local lawmakers have repeatedly called for the center to be closed, however it remains under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A spokesman for ICE said the agency continues to “conduct enforcement actions every day around the country, including Pennsylvania, as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to uphold public safety and border security” but denied reports that it was conducting sweeps locally.
“ICE’s enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately. ICE does not conduct targeted enforcement actions as retribution,” a spokesman said via email.
Earlier on Tuesday, Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding to know how many migrant children who were separated from their families at the southern border have been housed in Pennsylvania.
The letter also sought information on where the unaccompanied minors are being held and what plans there are to reunite them with their parents.
Wolf and Casey, both Democrats, said they oppose the practice of detaining families of asylum-seekers and separating children from their parents.
“Our main priority as statewide officials is ensuring the safety and well-being of all Pennsylvanians, including those residing in our great commonwealth even for a short period of time,” the letter read. “We are very concerned about vulnerable children, for whom the trauma of being separated from their families will have a short and long-term adverse impact on their mental health and well-being.
Pennsylvania is legally required to inspect facilities that house children and they want to ensure that immigrant children detained in the state without their families are receiving the care required under state law, Wolf and Casey said.
The department didn't immediately respond to a request for answers.
Meanwhile on Monday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., determined the U.S. government is violating its own rules regarding the treatment of people seeking asylum.
Judge James Boasberg issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to stop what opponents called the arbitrary detention of legitimate asylum seekers.
All immigrants seeking asylum must pass an initial screening to determine if they face a real threat of persecution in their home countries. Previously, those who passed were usually given humanitarian parole while awaiting an immigration hearing.
Lawyers for the ACLU and other groups argued that since the start of President Donald Trump's administration, the number of people granted such parole has dropped to almost zero in five key ICE districts. Boasberg ordered a sweeping review of all such cases.