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MLK Day Rally Credit: Maanvi Singh

Though Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement occurred over 40 years ago, the communities of Penn and Philadelphia are carrying on his message of social justice by standing up for individuals facing deportation from the United States.

Monday afternoon, the Student Labor Action Project and MEChA — Penn’s Chicano cultural group — joined others around the Philadelphia area at the Arch Street United Methodist Church at 55 N. Broad St. for a rally and subsequent march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, located at 1600 Callowhill St.

The rally was organized in support of members of the Philadelphia community currently facing deportation, focusing specifically Cambodian community. Carrying signs and chanting, the marchers launched a peaceful demonstration against unjust deportations.

The issue of deportation came into prominence after enforcement of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which states that some minor offenses — such as shoplifting — are sufficient grounds for the immediate deportation of non-U.S. citizens. Currently, many immigrants with past crimes on their records have been subjected to deportation without being able to present their cases to a judge.

While deportation potentially threatens all non-citizen groups, Philadelphia’s Cambodian community — composed largely of refugees of Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s — has been a particular target of this law.

The deportations have targeted those residents who “came into the ghettos of Philadelphia as infants and were expected to lead an exemplary life,” despite landing in a situation that is “kind of conducive to crime,” College sophomore and SLAP member Meghna Chandra said.

“They made some mistakes in their teenage years, but have now turned their lives around and have families,” she added. As a result of the law, however, many of those families are being broken apart.

While the march addressed the struggles of a particular community in Philadelphia, “a lot of students at Penn are immigrants or children of immigrants,” College junior and MEChA Chairwoman Rosie Brown — who is also a member of SLAP — said.

According to La Casa Latina, Penn’s resource center for Latino students, there are currently five known undocumented freshmen at Penn.

Brown added that immigration and social injustice are sometimes “issues that Penn students face in their personal lives,” but can also be addressed on a broader scale on campus.

SLAP and MEChA are two groups working to further such activism at Penn. SLAP focuses on labor and economic justice issues, while MEChA concentrates on Latino civil rights. Although Brown commented that few such groups exist on campus, she expressed hope that more students will begin to see the connection between Penn and being “a bigger part of the community of Philadelphia.”

Brown and College senior and SLAP member Rose Espinola viewed the rally as a step toward forging that connection.

“We were going out to support a march in Philadelphia [at Monday’s rally], but every day — here at Penn — we’re also challenging oppression and exploitation,” Espinola said. “Our participation in today’s protest shows that students care about challenging systems of oppression.”

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