When the Washington Post leaked on Dec. 23 that the Barack Obama administration would begin a series of raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, and start deporting some 100,000 people in 2016, immigrant rights groups did not sit back. Protests to the raids, which mostly target migrants from Central America who fled violence in their home countries in the prior year, were immediately in the works. The raids began the first weekend of the new year.
On Dec. 30, a noisy demonstration was held by immigrant families and activists outside the White House. (wusa9.com) On Jan. 6, according to Mission Local, protesters gathered outside the San Francisco ICE headquarters. On Jan. 7, activists protested outside the federal building which houses ICE in Newark, N.J., reported nj.com. Other demonstrations have occurred in Boston; New Haven, Conn.; Homestead, Fla.; and Auburn, Ore. (democracynow.org, Jan. 8)
Following are reports on protests and press conferences from Workers World Party activists.
With arms locked together and shielded with large black piping, heroic immigrant rights activists blocked traffic for nearly an hour outside the ICE offices and immigration court in lower Manhattan. The action was publicized as a noontime press conference in response to the Obama administration’s authorization of more raids, detentions and deportations of migrants.
Following the press conference, organizers held a short march of 250 people, who were accompanied by the cops. Then, suddenly, another group of mostly immigrant youth activists and migrants, in touch with the march, moved in and shut down one of the largest and busiest thoroughfares in New York City.
Toni Arenstein, from the People’s Power Assembly, told Workers World: “Police were totally unprepared. They really didn’t know what to do. Not only were the people blocking the intersections, but everyone in the area went into the street.”
Protesters prevented the cops from opening up two corners by quickly stretching banners across the street stating their demands: “ICE Free NYC,” “Close Prisons — Open Borders,” “Not One More Deportation: Cut the Fence” and “Fuck ICE.”
“It was empowering to see people’s response to the action and to see the community come together within a day to speak out against the raids. This is just the first step,” said Claudia Palacios, a PPA organizer who took part in the protest.
Seven protesters were arrested. Organizers outside the police headquarters heard that because of the way the seven were tied together and because they allegedly refused arrest, they were still being kept after 24 hours.
Predawn raids start in Atlanta
Several dozen immigrant women and children, one of them only 4 years old, were seized from homes throughout metro Atlanta by ICE agents in the predawn hours of Jan. 2.
By nightfall, at least 47 refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were on a plane to Texas where they were taken to a detention center in preparation for deportation.
On Jan. 7, at a press conference in front of the Atlanta ICE office called by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Johanna Gutierrez provided the terrifying details of how her niece and nephew were removed by armed men from her Norcross, Ga., home.
Gutierrez described how agents came barging through the door, claiming they did not need a warrant to enter. Going from room to room, they separated the scared, crying children from the adults. They threatened to arrest her when she sought to comfort and reassure the children.
Gutierrez’s niece, Ana Lizeth Mejía, and her young son had fled Honduras in the summer of 2014 after her brother was killed by gang members. Gutierrez said that her niece wore an ankle monitor and had an upcoming court date on her application for asylum.
The GLAHR office has been inundated with phone calls since the raids took place. Some are relatives trying to find out where their loved ones have been taken. Other immigrants call seeking advice, frightened to send their children to school or to open their doors — situations so similar to their fearful lives in the violence-wrought countries from which they had tried to escape.
Wisconsin says #StopTheRaids
Voces de la Frontera and the New Sanctuary Movement in Milwaukee held a protest Jan. 7 at the ICE office there to demand an end to the latest raids and deportations. Participants pledged their support of refugee community members and called on ICE to stop the raids.
An upcoming “Know Your Rights” workshop and other resources for community self-defense were announced. The protest was supported by the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association and other labor and community organizations. See vdlf.org and #StopTheRaids.
Toni Arenstein, Dianne Mathiowetz, Lyn Neeley and WW Milwaukee Bureau contributed to this article.