USA First Look

Cinco de Mayo cancelled in Philadelphia amid immigration fears

The immigration crackdown has canceled one of Philadelphia's most prominent celebrations of Latin American culture.

A man dressed as an Aztec dancer prepares for the start of the annual Carnaval de Puebla, a traditional Mexican carnival celebration that re-enacts the Battle of Cinco de Mayo, in Philadelphia in 2014.
Charles Mostoller/Reuters/File
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Organizers of a prominent Mexican festival in Philadelphia have cancelled this year’s parade over concerns that immigration authorities could target attendees.

Edgar Ramirez, one of the six organizers who decided unanimously to cancel it, told local station WCAU-TV that the decision was a “sad but responsible” one in light of the "severe conditions affecting the immigrant community,” citing recent large-scale immigration raids that include a roundup of 248 people in Pennsylvania and neighboring states this month.

"We have people who travel all the way from Chicago, Connecticut and New York," Mr. Ramirez told the station. "We don't want anything to happen to them."

El Carnaval de Puebla, held in South Philadelphia for about a decade on May 5, celebrates Mexican forces’ defeat of French invaders on May 5, 1862 in Puebla, the state from which much of the city's Mexican population hails. About 450 people march in the parade, which draws about 15,000 attendees.

The event's cancellation seems to underscore the way a crackdown aimed at least nominally at immigrants without legal status has prompted trepidation among nonwhite ethnic communities more generally. And it comes as Philadelphia, along with other cities deemed “sanctuaries” for immigrants due to policies that limit police cooperation with ICE, faces pressure from the Trump administration. In a January memo, President Trump ordered federal funding to be cut off for such jurisdictions, though if and how that might be enacted remains unclear.

Since 2014, Philadelphia has not honored ICE requests to keep a detainee in jail while waiting for immigration agents to arrive, unless the individual is being released after conviction for a violent felony and the request is supported by a judicial warrant.

But the city is facing anti-sanctuary pressure from the state of Pennsylvania as well as from the federal government: in February, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill that would cut off hundreds of millions in state grants to cities and counties that do not honor ICE detention requests in any circumstances. Mayor Jim Kenney says he sees the state bill as more of a threat than Mr. Trump’s executive order, and calls Republicans’ characterization of it as a public-safety measure “mystifying”.

“Almost every police chief across the country, the Police Chiefs Association, has said that imposing these types of situations is less safe by driving undocumented but good-meaning people underground, afraid to report crime when they’re victims of it or witnesses to it,” he told CBS after the bill’s passage. 

ICE says its enforcement actions are targeted operations, not indiscriminate sweeps. But Philadelphia immigration lawyer David Kaplan told Philly.com that organizers’ concerns might be justified, although enforcement might not target the carnival itself.

"I don't think it's beyond [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to put themselves in the right locations where people would stop to eat before going to the carnival,” he told the site.

El Carnaval’s organizers say they will meet soon to discuss the future of the festival.

"I would understand why people are scared or worried," said Carlos Torres, a spokesman with the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, in an interview with WCAU-TV. "But our message is that we are with them. People should try to continue to live their lives as regular as possible, but in a well-informed matter."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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