Philadelphia protesters occupy ICE, shut it down

In the early afternoon of July 5 without warning, police — including SWAT, Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security — took over and destroyed the peaceful encampment outside the Philadelphia Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. The authorities seized all supplies of the camp, destroying tents and forcing out the people even though they had complied with orders to not block sidewalks or access to the building.

At least two, possibly three arrests were reported.  A press conference had been scheduled for later in the afternoon.

The people’s occupation of ICE office had kicked off on July 2 after a rally of 300 to 400 people at City Hall.  Marchers walked several blocks to the ICE office at Eighth and Cherry streets and set up camp, blocking access to the agency’s vehicle entrances.

Following a tense standoff with demonstrators on the first night of the occupation, police initiated a crackdown on the camp, arresting 29 people at  noon on July 3. As they made the arrests and kettled demonstrators in with bicycles, Philadelphia police worked hand-in-hand with federal counterterrorism and Homeland Security agents.

At least two demonstrators were injured, one severely enough to have to go to a hospital. All arrestees were released within several hours and given citations. Many bravely returned to the camp.

So far, demonstrators have held down the camp for two nights and are still going strong.  In addition to facing police aggression, they have continued the encampment despite a severe heat wave, torrential downpours, flash floods, and thunder and lightning.

Members of the anti-police brutality group REAL Justice brought their clear understanding of the connection between ICE and the police with a chant of “P-O-L, I-C-E, Cops and ICE are family!” that became popular with the crowd.  The Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, Philly South Asian Collective and ADAPT, a disability rights organization, helped to lead chants and provided a broader understanding of the role that racism plays in this crisis.

‘Justice for all migrants!’

Workers World Party members brought a banner from the June 30 immigrant rights action that read: “Abolish ICE, the Police and the Pentagon! Justice for All Migrants! Close All Detention Camps!” Philadelphia delegates from a recent contingent to the Texas/Mexican border organized by Fight for Im/migrants and Refugees Everywhere (FIRE) joined the encampment as soon as they returned.

The camp’s initiating organizations include Philly Socialists, Philly Democratic Socialists of America, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, POWER Philadelphia and  Socialist Alternative/Philadelphia.

The ICE occupation began two days after the June 30 national day of action for migrants, when large demonstrations were held in cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia. The Philly ICE occupation is part of the broader mass mobilization to abolish ICE. Revelations regarding ICE’s practice of separating children from their families and detaining them indefinitely in concentration camps across the country further motivated this mobilization.

On July 4, a day that brings a large number of people into historic Philadelphia areas just blocks from the camp, numerous honks of support for the occupation came from passing drivers, including bus drivers. People walking through the area also stopped to express support.

Most likely angered by this broad show of support for migrants and opposition to ICE, police retaliated against these displays of solidarity by blocking traffic on the street. Demonstrators responded by taking over the street and leading chants against the police and ICE.

The occupation is set to continue indefinitely. The coalition organizing the encampment has put forth these demands: Stop the deportations, abolish ICE, close the Philadelphia-area Berks County family detention center and stop cooperation with ICE. The wide mobilization backing the migrant struggle and the resilience demonstrated by those occupying ICE offices show that the power of the people is greater than the power of the cops. See #OccupyICEPHL for updates.

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