New York City – Sage Louise slept outside the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency building in New York’s Greenwich Village Monday night.
She was part of a rotating group of about 30 people outside the facility who are calling for the abolishment of the facility and an end to immigration detention centres that have come under increased scrutiny since the administration of US President Donald Trump announced its “zero-tolerance” policy in April.
“We can’t just afford to have symbolic rallies,” Louise told Al Jazeera. “We actually have to do things to stop ICE operations,” she said. “It’s just imperative at this point.”
On Monday, #OccupyICENYC forced the agency to temporarily cancel a series of immigration hearings, with officials citing a need to “ensure the safety of ICE employees, the court, the public and detainees”, according to local media. The facility resumed operations the following day.
#OccupyICENYC is part of nationwide “occupy ICE” movements that have successfully forced ICE facilities in several other US cities to temporarily halt their operations.
The New York City activists said they took their inspiration from and networked with other #OccupyICE groups, including those in Portland and Philadelphia. Similar protests have also taken place in Detroit and San Diego.
Just over a week ago, protesters in Portland, Oregon, forced a facility to shut its doors.
Protesters remained outside the Portland facility early on Wednesday, despite a warning from federal officials that arrests could take place at any time, according to local media.
Bowing to pressure, Trump signed an executive order last Wednesday, ending the most controversial part of the zero-tolerance policy: separating children from their parents at the border.
Following that order, the Department of Justice asked a California court to modify a federal court ruling that said migrant and refugee children can only be kept in detention for up to 20 days.
In Los Angeles, California, protesters set up camp outside the Roybal Federal Building.
“We don’t consider it a victory if children who have been separated from their families are just reunited with their families, and they’re still in cages,” said Steven Ducey, who is part of the protests in Los Angeles.
“That’s still immoral,” Ducey told Al Jazeera by telephone. “That’s still completely against what this country should stand for.”
Ducey said most reactions by passers-by have been positive, though on one occasion opponents threw eggs at the protests.
ICE had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment at the time of publication. A spokeswoman for ICE told the Gothamist that New York protesters “were spreading misinformation and advocating violence”.
Support from some politicians
The activists’ call has won some support among Democratic politicians. On Monday, Representative Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, introduced legislation that would abolish the agency.
Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat representing Oregon’s 3rd congressional district, called for the abolishment of ICE in a Medium post. “We should abolish ICE and start over, focusing on our priorities to protect our families and our borders in a humane and thoughtful fashion,” Blumenauer wrote.
On Tuesday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated incumbent Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has also called for ICE to be shut down.
However, calls to abolish ICE face resistance from both Republicans and centrist Democrats. For example, Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the US House of Representatives, opposes abolishment.
We're going to continue to try and bring light to these issues and lift up the voices of oppressed peoples and people who have been in this struggle for a long time.
Louise said that the New York protesters were thinking about “evolving the occupation to look at other ICE buildings that may be more appropriate”, adding they were considering spaces where they may “have a greater impact occupying”.
Activists maintain ICE represents a punitive model of immigration enforcement that is both ineffective and inhumane.
“I’m not even thinking about what ICE looks like under Trump,” Louise said. “Under Obama’s administration, I’d feel the same way. ICE just needs to go.”
Activists said that they would continue protesting outside of ICE detention facilities as long as possible.
“We’re here. We’re not going anywhere,” said Steve Ducey in Los Angeles.
“We’re going to continue to try and bring light to these issues and lift up the voices of oppressed peoples and people who have been in this struggle for a long time.”
Editor’s note: Shortly after this article was published, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (MACC) said in a statement it was discontinuing its action outside the ICE facility on Varnick Street after it said it learned “ICE is retaliating against the occupation by not holding bond hearings or allowing access to pro bono legal representation”. ICE has yet to comment on the MACC statement. An action continues at another site in New York, according to MACC.