Portland, Oregon – Dozens of protesters have occupied the grounds of the local US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Portland, Oregon to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
The group, calling it itself #OccupyICEPDX, set up camp on Sunday, calling for the abolition of ICE and an end to government’s “zero tolerance” approach to immigration.
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The protesters vowed to remain on Thursday after it successfully shut down the office a day earlier.
Since the camp was erected, up to 400 people have shown up for nightly vigils.
Individuals stand by the road holding signs such as “Everyone is Welcome Here”, “Stop Child Abuse – Abolish Ice” and “Close the Trump Concentration Camps”.
Roberta, who asked not to use her surname, held a sign reading: “Truth, Freedom, and Justice for all.”
She told Al Jazeera: “We’ve gotten lots of honks and only a few fingers.”
#OccupyICEPDX comes amid a widespread outcry over the government’s “zero tolerance” approach towards migrants and refugees who cross the US southern border without documents. The approach included a practice of separating children from parents who were held.
Despite having a 3 week old baby, our family has made the decision to move into the ICE occupation. We won’t leave until ICE does. As long as families are being separated, our family will take a stand. Please join us #OccupyICEPDX pic.twitter.com/DdL5HzLI6O
— Gregory McKelvey (@GregoryMcKelvey) June 20, 2018
After repeatedly saying only legislators could end the controversial tactic, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday, to keep families together. It remains unclear, however, what will happen to the children who have already been separated from their families.
According to the Associated Press, about 500 of the 2,300 children separated have been reunited with their parents, but it was not clear if they remained in detention.
While the executive order ends the separation of families, many fear the practice will only shift to detaining families for long periods of time – a tactic likely to be challenged in the courts.
‘Occupy with a purpose’
The scene in Portland is a throwback to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. That movement made income inequality a national issue but it lacked any concrete demands, and it fizzled out within months.
The difference this time is “it’s Occupy with a purpose – Abolish ICE,” said Amina Rahman, a labour organiser and Portland native .
The camp, which now includes about 50 tents, has a kitchen feeding hundreds, security patrols, media representatives, medical care, a library, a children’s area that includes storytelling and care for infants, and nightly entertainment such as a troupe of Aztec dancers.
Locals drive up and unload trays of food and cases of bottled water alongside the three-story ICE building that’s surrounded by an eight-foot metal fence and security cameras. A local ice cream shop sent its truck to hand out treats to protesters, and a pizzeria owner hand-delivered a stack of pies.
Soooo many ppl donated food/snacks/camping essentials… Srsly SO MUCH water, food, etc. Great turnout too
— Sheri Scumvänker (@StephSlit) June 19, 2018
On Monday evening, as ICE employees in cars tried to leave work, 20 people locked arms and blocked the driveway, according to organiser Jacob Bureros.
The vehicles went back inside the facility and two police officers with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under which ICE operates, tried to negotiate with protesters.
Bureros said police asked the protesters for “reasonable accommodation,” explaining that “nine of the employees inside need to go home to their families.”
He said protesters started yelling: “What about the families you are holding?”
The ICE facility includes a jail area meant for temporary detention before immigrants are shipped off to long-term holding facilities in the Pacific Northwest.
DHS police threatened to arrest protesters, but has not carried out the threat.
On Tuesday, protesters said about a dozen DHS police arrived and created a area to allow the remaining employees to leave.
Portland police have not been present at the protests.
On Wednesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler stated that he does not want the Portland police “to be engaged or sucked into a conflict, particularly from a federal agency that I believe is on the wrong track.”
At the time of publishing, ICE had not responded to Al Jazeera’s repeated requests for comment. According to local reports, ICE said it will not resume operations at the Portland office until “there are no longer security concerns resulting from the ongoing protests there.”
The ‘Occupy ICE’ protests have since spread to other cities, with demonstrators setting up camp outside ICE offices in New York, Los Angeles and other places.
Back in Portland, protesters vowed to remain.
“We need to make this a national movement,” Jenny Nickolaus told Al Jazeera.
“We are staying here until ICE is abolished or until we are physically removed.”