Amnesty International billboards in Philly and other cities demand freedom for immigrant families in ICE custody


Billboards urging ICE to stop detaining immigrant families fleeing dangerous homelands and to free those already being held during the worst pandemic in a century have gone up in Philadelphia and other American cities.

Amnesty International USA erected the signs as part of a campaign, launched Tuesday morning, that urges federal immigration authorities to use their discretion and release both parents and children — an action they’ve long declined to take — and to end a crackdown on migrants seeking asylum in the United States.

The local billboard stands on the north side of the Vine Expressway near 12th Street, about seven blocks from the Philadelphia office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It bears a stark, black-and-white image of a child’s hands clutching a chain-link fence and the words, “'We were searching for safety and they locked us away.' Demand ICE free the families.”

Each link of chain in the picture bears the names of immigrant children and parents being held at one of the nation’s three family detention centers, two of them in Texas and the third in Berks County, Pa.

The number of families detained at Berks can rise or fall dramatically depending on what occurs elsewhere in the immigration-enforcement system, though in recent months the center has held only a handful of parents and children.

Other billboards were going up in Texas, Virginia, and the Washington D. C. area, directed at both ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Get the news you need to start your day

The federal government runs the largest immigration-detention system in the world, with ICE holding about 21,000 people in nearly 200 facilities across the country.

Asked about the billboards, an ICE spokesman said Tuesday that the agency respects people’s rights to peacefully voice their opinions. The Berks center is a “safe and humane environment for families,” subject to inspections by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and compliant with federal laws, mandates and court orders, the spokesman said. No resident or staff member there has tested positive for COVID-19, he said, due to staff health-and-safety efforts to lessen the risk of exposure to the virus.

Amnesty spokesperson Mariya Parodi said the global human-rights advocate had several reasons for sending its message through an old-fashioned, low-tech medium.

Amnesty already reaches supporters via texts, websites, and emails, but “what we wanted to do with the billboards is also target the people responsible for these detention facilities offline. People like [Acting Secretary of Homeland Security] Chad Wolf and [Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director] Tony Pham,” Parodi said.

“In addition to targeting states t... (Read more)

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