The annual parade through South Philadelphia has taken place in late April or early May for the last decade and is the city’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration. Organizer Edgar Ramirez said as many as 15,000 gather from as far as New England and Chicago.
The decision to cancel El Carnaval, Ramirez said in an interview Friday, was “sad but responsible” in light of the immigration crackdown by federal authorities.
He said the entire Mexican-American community, both those here legally and those undocumented, are disheartened by reports of large-scale arrests and detainments by officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This week, ICE announced that 248 people in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia are now in federal custody awaiting deportation after a two-week sweep.
“The group of six organizers decided to cancel unanimously,” Ramirez said. “Everyone is offended by the actions of ICE. They did not feel comfortable holding the event.”
The fear of federal immigration officers targeting the well-known celebration would have cast a dark cloud over what is among the most colorful and joyful on Philadelphia’s Latin American calendar, he said. Carnaval celebrates the May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces defeated French invaders.
Some 450 carnavaleros, or marchers, take part in the parade. Some of the carnavaleros made history on New Year’s Day 2016 when they marched in the city’s well-known Mummers Parade. Carnaval itself has often taken place on Ninth Street between Wolf Street and Washington Avenue, though it spills onto many of the side streets.
“We have people who travel all the way from Chicago, Connecticut and New York. We don’t want anything to happen to them,” he said.
ICE Officer Khaalid Walls of the agency’s Philadelphia office said in an email that “ICE’s enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
A spokesman with the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia said they are aware of Carnaval’s cancellation and that consular officials are not surprised about the current demeanor of citizens and undocumented immigrants alike.
“I would understand why people are scared or worried,” Carlos Torres, a consular spokesman said. “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.”
Torres said the consulate has established a Center for Legal Defense that anyone can use for immigration advice. The center also holds seminars throughout the year.
As for a return of Carnaval, organizers will decide sometime in the future if the parade once again dances its way through the heavily Latino Pennsport neighborhood, Ramirez said.
“Let’s see how things are next year,” he said.