Archive for May 2009
Here’s my just-out story in the TC Daily Planet on this morning’s immigration rights protest at ICE headquarters in Bloomington.
Immigration protest, arrests at Bloomington ICE headquarters
By Anna Pratt , TC Daily Planet May 06, 2009
After blocking off entrances to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Bloomington, about 30 activists who participated in acts of civil disobedience were arrested as part of a peaceful protest Wednesday morning.
Nearly 100 others showed up for the protest, chanting from the sidelines, phrases such as “Stop the raids now!”
In a press conference that preceded the sit-ins, activists called for a moratorium on immigration raids and deportations and an overhauling of a “broken immigration system.”
Following that, Bloomington police, who were equipped with plenty of gear reminiscent of the Republican National Convention (RNC), circled the protesters. One by one, they arrested those who had planted themselves in the middle of an ICE driveway with locked arms.
Erika Zurawski, an organizer of the protest who is active with the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition (MIRAC) said the idea was to “shut down ICE. We want to make it difficult for them to do their job, which is to enforce unjust laws.”
The demonstration, which marks the May 1 date of President Barack Obama’s 100 days in office, is also significant because detainees are often deported on Wednesdays, according to Zurawski. “The Obama Administration keeps stressing change, but Obama has said he can’t do it himself. We’re following that idea. We’re telling the administration that we’ve seen no change,” she said.
Loren McGrail, a local pastor, said faith leaders need to take a stand on the issue. “Capital and goods can cross borders, so why can’t people?” said, adding, “No human is illegal.”
Another MIRAC member, Francisco Segovia, who moved to the U.S. from El Salvador 20 years ago, said he was pleased with the turnout. “We have achieved our goal, which was to denounce raids and the breakup of families. We are here because we have hope. We can’t wait. We have to have immigration reform,” he said. “We have been able to deliver our message and shut down the ICE building. The support here is amazing.”
Dave Bicking, a protester who is running for the Minneapolis City Council in the 9th Ward, said he was impressed with the “waves of people who were ready to be arrested. It was inspiring.”
A prepared statement from the activists reads: “We are here today to put our bodies on the line to show what our consciences believe — that the immigration system and enforcement is dehumanizing and destructive of families and communities … We believe that unjust laws need to be changed, not obeyed.”
Nick Espinosa, a protester who lives in Minneapolis, shared his story. He can vouch for the negative effects of immigration raids on families that are torn apart. One day, when Espinosa was doing yard work, the police arrived unexpectedly, arresting and deporting his father, who was originally from Ecuador. “In one day, they destroyed what [my dad] had worked for, for 20 years,” said Espinosa, adding, “Growing up without a father has been tough … He didn’t get to see me graduate from high school or college.”
Another activist from Minneapolis, Kathryn Sharpe, said that she hopes that their call to action generates a higher level of conversation “about whom we want in the country and how we treat people.” She’s a part of the demonstration because, “It devastates me to see how the country treats people who come here without documents out of desperation.”
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who was recently arrested during a Darfur protest in Washington, D.C., echoed some of those sentiments over the phone: “ICE raids should come to a stop. They’re disruptive and they create fear.” However, he admitted that the issue, which he said is urgent, has a long ways to go in Congress. “Immigration reform has slipped in prominence as a critical issue, with the emergence of economic problems, foreclosures and conditions in Afghanistan … It’s critical that it not go off national consciousness,” he said.
Ellison declined to comment about his recent act of civil disobedience, though he was willing to say that “Civil disobedience is a choice that an individual has to make. They have to be ready to deal with those actions.”
In response to the protest, ICE spokesman Timothy Counts said via e-mail: “As an enforcement agency, the men and women of ICE have sworn an oath to uphold the laws of our nation as they are written. We do so professionally and humanely, and with an acute awareness of the impact that enforcement has on the individuals we encounter.” As for how any acts of civil disobedience will be handled, he said, “ICE does not comment on those issues.”
Anna Pratt is a freelance journalist living and working in Minneapolis.