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Occupy ICE fights deportation, family separation

Putting ICE on ice

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Eight Occupy ICE protesters were arrested on Aug. 2 in Centennial. - EMILY ZEEK
  • Emily Zeek
  • Eight Occupy ICE protesters were arrested on Aug. 2 in Centennial.
On the morning of Aug. 2, eight protesters from the Occupy ICE Denver camp blocked both entrances to the Centennial office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from about 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The protesters used lock boxes — hands chained together inside PVC pipe to prevent quick or easy unlocking — to establish four-person human barricades stretching across each entrance. Dozens of officers in riot gear from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department and Homeland Security descended, covering protesters’ heads with sheets as they worked to dismantle the lockboxes. Nearby, a crowd of Occupiers chanted, beat drums and live-streamed. All eight protesters were arrested and were later released with court dates.

The blockade was the culmination of the Occupy ICE Denver camp, which dispersed later that day, a response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The camp was organized by longtime activist Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of four who gained national attention when she took sanctuary in Denver churches for 86 days to avoid immigration authorities before being granted a stay of deportation in 2017 for about two years.

“There is a humanitarian crisis at the border — the separation of mothers, fathers, and kids who are placed in cages,” she says. “It is inhuman and someone needs to take action to stop this practice.”

Occupy ICE encampments have sprung up in Portland, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Sacramento and other cities. According to Vizguerra, the Occupy ICE Denver camp demanded “the reunification of the parents and children here in Colorado [and to] stop the deportations of people without criminal records.”

“It’s a bad time for immigrants, not just for Mexicans or Hispanic people, but people from India, China, Japan, Africa,” says Vizguerra. “... It’s important to take action together and create unity, love, peace and resistance for each community.”

After the camp’s establishment on July 29, Vizguerra got busy creating community in the row of tents erected on the narrow strip of public grass between the sidewalk in front of the ICE office and Caley Avenue.

Herbert Benton Dillon Williams IV, from Colorado Springs, was camped there “to assist this cause in putting pressure on ICE until the families are reunited and kept here.”

He says, “We have a lot of support from the community and different groups like the Denver Democratic Socialists of America [DSA], Fort Collins DSA, Food Not Bombs Fort Collins, Redneck Revolt, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the National Lawyers Guild, Denver Standing Up for Racial Justice [SURJ], the Industrial Workers of the World, American Friends Service Committee and Asian Communities Together. A lot of people have stopped by in support.”
The disparate organizations that comprise much of Colorado’s political left worked together to establish a camp that offered Occupiers three free meals a day and served as a base for direct actions like the blockade. Jeremy Mack, who describes Food Not Bombs as an “anarchist collective” echoes Williams’ sentiments. “We’ve been inundated with donations. Enough food and support from the public for sure.”

David Wagner, of Lilian Shea Law Office in Aurora, was a member of the public who visited the camp to offer legal support. “If someone has an immigration issue, it is wise to speak to an attorney as soon as possible to see about what options they might have,” he says. “There are several pro bono options in the state of Colorado for those who cannot afford an attorney, but either way, having an attorney who is working for you and who cares about your case is one of the most important things. The federal government is moving at a much quicker pace now, more than ever before, and individuals with immigration issues need to act as soon as an issue arises to avoid potentially severe consequences.”

Like Vizguerra, Laura Naranjo, of Lakewood, felt a moral compulsion to come to the camp. “I’m a Chicana Southern Ute,” she says. “I’m a veteran of many decades of many [protest] camps. Our grandparents and parents fought against fascism and now we have to.

“I’ve been going to the camps for a long time. My relatives in Texas said that there was an attack on their Abolish ICE San Antonio camp and that was it. I came out here.”

Naranjo is referring to an incident in which approximately 20 men, wearing skull masks and waving American flags, destroyed a tent and shouted racial slurs at the Occupy ICE San Antonio camp on July 28. Patriot Front, a neo-Nazi organization with chapters across the country, claimed responsibility for the attack. The group has tweeted images of their flyers posted on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus, as well as a banner hung on the Interstate 25 and Baptist Road overpass.

“Antifa is going to be needed, but we have our own things about anarchist reactions to stuff because native people end up doing the time,” Naranjo says. “We try to have good talks with the black flag anarchists to say, ‘Keep it chill, keep it calm, talk to the indigenous elders first.’ We appreciate what they’re doing because they’re fighting the good fight. I’m an indigenous elder, a junior elder, I’m a spiritualista. I do prayers and ceremonies. I brought my smoke.”

Naranjo was not the only veteran of past protests in attendance. River Dougherty arrived at the Denver protest fresh from the Portland camp, which was involved in a number of violent encounters with police. “It was hardcore, but we had a camp set up that was police-proof for 38 days,” they said. “It was really successful in my mind.”

So what did ICE think of the demonstration? Carl Rusnok, the Central Region Director of Communications for ICE stated, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fully respects the constitutional rights of all people to peacefully express their opinions. ICE remains committed to performing its immigration enforcement mission consistent with federal law and agency policy.”

Disclosure: The author is a local activist and knows some of the protesters, however none of her acquaintances were interviewed for this story

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