After successfully forcing Portland’s Ice office to shut down Wednesday, occupying protesters are vowing to stay until so-called “zero tolerance” immigration policies end.
The pledge by members of #OccupyICEPDX came as Donald Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from parents at the border with Mexico. Yet despite the order US official have said there are no immediate plans to reunite children separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy, which has come under heavy criticism from Democrats, Republicans, human rights activists, international leaders and the public.
Ice announced this morning that the office would be temporarily closed as a result of “security concerns”, and would not reopen until those concerns were addressed.
Meanwhile Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, announced that the city would not attempt to clear the camps, calling Ice an agency was “on the wrong track”.
Why are children being separated from their families?
In April 2018, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced a “zero tolerance” policy under which anyone who crossed the border without legal status would be prosecuted by the justice department. This includes some, but not all, asylum seekers. Because children can’t be held in adult detention facilities, they are being separated from their parents.
Immigrant advocacy groups, however, say hundreds of families have been separated since at least July 2017.
More than 200 child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Nations, said they opposed the practice.
What happens to the children?
They are supposed to enter the system for processing “unaccompanied alien children”, which exists primarily to serve children who voluntarily arrive at the border on their own. Unaccompanied alien children are placed in health department custody within 72 hours of being apprehended by border agents. They then wait in shelters for weeks or months at a time as the government searches for parents, relatives or family friends to place them with in the US.
This already overstretched system has been thrown into chaos by the new influx of children.
Can these children be reunited with their parents?
Immigration advocacy groups and attorneys have warned that there is not a clear system in place to reunite families. In one case, attorneys in Texas said they had been given a phone number to help parents locate their children, but it ended up being the number for an immigration enforcement tip line.
Advocates for children have said they do not know how to find parents, who are more likely to have important information about why the family is fleeing its home country. And if, for instance, a parent is deported, there is no clear way for them to ensure their child is deported with them.
What happened to families before?
This was harshly criticized and a federal court in 2015 stopped the government from holding families for months without explanation. Instead, they were released while they waited for their immigration cases to be heard in court. Not everyone shows up for those court dates, leading the Trump administration to condemn what it calls a “catch and release” program. By Amanda Holpuch
On Wednesday afternoon, in 95F (35C) degree temperatures, a core group of 50 or so protesters kept up their blockade of the federal facility. All expected that, as on the previous two days, the crowds would swell in the evening.
Luis Marquez, a local activist, when asked about the shutdown, said: “I think this occupation is a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing. Every single person here is a hero.”
Like others in the camp he said he would not leave until the “zero tolerance” incarceration of refugees at the border ended.
“If I hurt your whole family separately or all together, I am still hurting you.”
At an evening press conference, the #OccupyICEPDX spokesman Jacob Bureros said that ending the occupation would depend on satisfying the protesters’ four demands: that the Ice facility and Ice operations be removed from the city of Portland, that children separated from their families be returned and receive adequate healthcare, that the US cease incarcerating asylum seekers, and that Ice be totally abolished. “The United States does not need its own gestapo,” Bureros said.
They come here seeking safety and asylum, and they get violenceProtester
Along with others, he was sitting in the shade, not far from where a live vibraphone performance had recently concluded. Occupiers were creating bespoke placards, handing out water, or sleeping through the heat of the day in their camp on a tram line at the rear of the Ice building.
By Wednesday the camp consisted of 30 tents and a number of other temporary structures. It had dedicated information and medical stations. Signs called for donations and builders. There were mounds of donated food and water, and makeshift barricades at either end of the camp. In the late afternoon, a local ice cream truck, Fifty Licks, stopped by for a second time to give out free ice cream to protesters.
A range of other cities began occupation camps Wednesday, as the tactic pioneered in Portland appeared to inspire others around the country. Plans for occupations were announced in LA, New York City, and elsewhere.
For the most part, the occupation – promoted on social media with the hashtag #occupyICEPDX – that began on Sunday has been peaceful.
On Tuesday evening, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) vehicles blocked a facing street and moved in on the building’s western entrance. About a dozen DHS officers emerged, armed and dressed in riot gear.
Officers parted protesters and entered the building. They re-emerged with more than 20 Ice staff members who had been stuck inside. Officers escorted the staff past protesters on the sidewalk and drove north as a convoy.
Five people slept at the facility on the Sunday night, said Jacob Bureros of Direct Action Portland, which organised the initial rally. Near midnight on Tuesday there were about 100 on site, busying themselves with kitchen work, security patrols or fashioning barricades from waste wood and chunks of concrete.
On Tuesday night, people were spread around the perimeter of the Ice facility, blocking entrances to buildings and car parks . While some wore masks or tactical clothing others were dressed casually, with dogs or children in tow. Many were protesting for the first time. A young carpenter, who would only identify himself as “A”, said previous protest movements had left him cold.
An Occupy encampment grows at #OccupyICEPDX. The ICE prison is closed and all the personnel inside appear to have left other than a security guard. Protesters have peacefully shut down one piece of the deportation machine. pic.twitter.com/CXja9nSBeI— Arun Gupta (@arunindy) June 20, 2018
“I was never into the Occupy movement, I thought it was flawed,” he said. But the thought of children being separated from their parents had angered him.
“It just has to stop,” he said. “I lost my dad five months ago. I can sympathize so much with these children. I’m a working-class person. I am surrounded by people who have fled here for their safety. They come here seeking safety and asylum, and they get violence.”
Out on the street, holding a sign, Stu Tanquist said he was “here to stand for the most vulnerable people in the world.”
Gregory McElvey and Kat Stevens said they would camp at the facility with their newborn baby.
“I think it will be dangerous and hard, but nowhere near as dangerous as it is to be in an immigrant family,” McElvey said.
Bureros would like to spark a national movement.
“We can’t all get to the border, we can’t all get to Washington DC,” he said. “So I am calling on all the other cities to step up, occupy the Ice facilities in your city and make sure they don’t function. I’ll stay here as long as it takes.”