The irony was not lost on many protesters across the country that on Feb. 18, President’s Day, they were condemning President Donald Trump for declaring a national emergency at the southern border.
“It’s horrible to think that on a day that we should be celebrating our presidents who are supposed to be standing up and protecting our democracy, we have to protest the president to protect democracy ourselves,” said Jem Corraggio, a member of MoveOn.
Corraggio was one of the speakers at Philadelphia’s President’s Day protest, which was organized by a number of organizations, including MoveOn, Indivisible, Refuse Fascism, CREDO Action and Abolish ICE. Around 200 people gathered by the Octavius Catto Statue at City Hall to protest the president’s crisis announcement on Feb. 15 which could free up approximately $8 billion to build his campaign promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. The crisis fund is expected to face tough legal battles.
Trump had previously requested $5.7 billion in funds from Congress in exchange for reopening the government. The president ultimately signed a bipartisan spending bill that allocated a relatively less $1.375 billion to the White House reported 234 miles of planned bollard wall.
“I’m here today because the outlandishness of this federal governments to think that they could spend eight billion dollars and to scapegoat immigrants to steal that money away from the people who need it the most is infuriating,” said Erika Almirón, a social justice activist and candidate for Philadelphia City Council at-large. “Eight billion dollars for people in this city could fully fund our schools, could talk about ending poverty and hunger for a lot of our young people in the city.”
The executive director of the immigrant rights organization Juntos, Almirón emphasized the consequences of building a wall. Almirón related the trauma to Berks County Residential Center, the controversial immigration detention center in Leesport, PA that holds children with their parents.
“We’re not in a crisis. We have seen the numbers of immigrants that have been coming into this country have actually dropped at the border. The real issue right now is that we have a humanitarian crisis,” challenged Almirón, a Philly native and child to immigrant parents from Paraguay. “I have been at Berks Family Detention Center with women and children, watching how prolonged detention on children is traumatizing. Why would we invest our funds into creating trauma for more and more families rather than handling this as a humanitarian crisis and helping people? What country do we want to be?”
Not present at the rally, PA State Attorney General Josh Shapiro also weighed in Trump’s national emergency decree and how it would impact the state’s federal funding.
“I am deeply concerned about the legality of President Trump’s national emergency declaration and its impact on Pennsylvania. Congress has allocated tens of millions of dollars to our Commonwealth that could be diverted for this fictional emergency — but the federal government has not yet provided clear guidance on their funding sources,” AG Shapiro stated in a press release on Feb. 18. “As we learn more, I will continue to work with the Wolf Administration and our Congressional delegation to prevent harm to Pennsylvania.”
Shapiro’s public statement continued to read:
“Congress and the President must act to fix our broken immigration system, but I will not allow essential funding for Pennsylvania to be held hostage in the process. By the President’s own admission, this declaration is not necessary—and it’s Congress’ job to determine its validity. My job as Attorney General is to uphold the rule of law, and I will not hesitate to take legal action if our Commonwealth loses out on any money we have been allocated by Congress.”