PHILADELPHIA–Amid heightened paranoia in the country’s immigrant communities, South Philadelphia can bid this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, “Hasta luego.”
El Carnaval de Puebla, which for a decade has drawn thousands of revelers to South Philly, won’t move ahead as planned this year for fear that attendees — many of whom travel from other American cities and Mexico — could be targeted by federal immigration agents, event organizer Edgar Ramirez said.
“We don’t want any incidents. There’s a little bit of fear in the community,” he said. “It’s sad to cancel the event, but we don’t want difficulties for anyone.”
US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement was quick to say the community had nothing to worry about.
“ICE’s enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said in an email. “US Immigration and Customs Enforcement fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion peacefully without interference.”
That said, the administration of President Donald Trump has done little to assuage the concerns of America’s immigrant communities. Within a week of taking office, Trump signed executive orders facilitating the construction of a wall on the Mexican border, fast-tracking and expanding deportations and stripping sanctuary cities of federal grant money.
After a raid last month that netted almost 700 arrests — most of them criminals, according to ICE — there were widespread reports of undocumented immigrants keeping their children out of schools and forgoing family nights out. Some abandoned social media. Others refused to answer their doors. Nervous parents and children constantly texted and called each other to make sure everyone was OK.
Meanwhile, public school systems released statements explaining they intended to protect any immigrants among their student bodies.
It appears that, in addition to ensuring attendees aren’t targeted, El Carnaval de Puebla wanted to make a political statement about this state of affairs.
Ramirez said he “wants to see the community treated with respect,” while one of the event’s founders, David Piña, told Philadelphia-based Al Día that a secondary message behind the cancellation is “to raise a voice of protest” opposing the White House stance on immigration.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he was disappointed to hear the fear gripping immigrants had manifested itself in the cancellation of a city event. His administration will do what it can to make sure El Carnaval de Puebla goes ahead as planned in 2018.
“I’m devastated to hear that ICE has had such a chilling effect that Philadelphians no longer feel comfortable engaging in this public celebration,” he said in a statement.
“While we can’t stop ICE from conducting these raids, I want our immigrant community to know that we want them here, we remain committed to being a Fourth Amendment city and protecting these values, and we will do whatever we can to help them feel comfortable bringing this celebration back in the future.”
Past celebrations have drawn as many as 15,000 people. Roughly half the attendees travel from outside Philadelphia, organizers say. In the city itself, about one in eight residents is Latino.
The event features a parade of dancers, in ornate masks and costumes that cost as much as $1,500 apiece, honoring the 1862 Battle of Pueblo that took place during the second Franco-Mexican war.
“We know that everything is uncertain, but we do not want them to take the risk,” said a post on the event’s Facebook page. “Carnaval is so important because it is the representation of our community in this city, and it represents a mixture of cultures. For the past 10 years we have been proud to share with our neighbors our tradition.
“But under these sad circumstances, it does not seem fair to us, nor is it now an environment conducive to a joyful celebration. Much of our community has other priorities, we do not want to increase one more risk.”