Eight protesters wearing cement-sleeves were arrested on Friday outside a New York City immigration court for blocking a busy intersection, as part of a protest against recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
“In light of the national news that immigrant communities are again being terrorized, with people being woken up in the middle of the night and families being torn apart in states across the country, we felt it was imperative that, here in New York City, we have an action and call attention to this,” said Nastaran Mohit, an organizer with the pro-immigrant rights coalition ICE-Free NYC. “This is a crisis, and it demands action.”
Before the street blockade, which last almost an hour, the protesters held a rally and press conference outside of the Varick Street Immigration Court in Manhattan, where speakers detailed how the U.S. immigration policies, and the ICE raids that enforce them, split up immigrant families and communities.
“It’s not fair that they come to your home, take your family, and leave you as a single-parent,” said Carol McDonald, one of the speakers at the rally. “The children are the ones impacted by the deportation. There are many families who live here, who are now homeless and have to fight for family that can’t come back to the country.”
McDonald, a single mother who attended the rally on her day off, detailed how her 18-year-old daughter hasn’t seen her father in about 10 years. Most of the other speakers were also personally affected by deportations and spoke about its effect on families and children.
“When [Homeland Security secretary] Jeh Johnson and [President Barack] Obama say they’re going to focus on deporting criminals, they’re lying because those at the front of the deportations are women and children,” said a speaker known as Antonio, who is also an immigrant. “Today, it’s our brothers and sisters from Central America. Tomorrow, it can be Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, or any one of us. The Republicans call us ‘criminals,’ and the Democrats deport us by the millions.”
The protest took place in response to last week’s raids and detention of 121 immigrants, mostly in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. The raids, most of which targeted Central American immigrants, along with Johnson’s describing them as part of “concerted, nationwide enforcement operations,” sparked fears and rumors of raids in other cities from San Francisco to New York City.
Although most of those arrested last week were Central American women and children, Johnson defended the raids as “consistent with our laws and values” and that the people targeted had “been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court” and had “exhausted appropriate legal remedies.”
“This should come as no surprise,” he said in a statement. “I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed. I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say these actions don’t go far enough. I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause. But, we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities.”
After ICE-Free NYC’s rally and press conference, the protesters began chanting and marching around the Varick Street Immigration Court building. When they approached the corner of Varick Street and West Houston Street, seven activists attached to each other at the arms with cement-sleeves stepped in front of traffic and blocked the intersection. Other protesters then unfurled banners with anti-deportation messages, including one plainly stating “Fuck ICE.” Dozens of other protesters also helped block traffic while chanting.
“We had several brave members of the ICE-Free NYC coalition, some of whom have sensitive status themselves and wanted to put their bodies on the line, lock themselves together and take the streets, surrounded by hundreds of activists that had their back,” Mohit said. “We thought it was really important to have a direct action component to this because we’re tired of having rallies and press conferences. This is a crisis in our community so we’re going to continue to escalate.”
The New York City Police Department — seemingly caught off-guard — struggled with trying to disperse the protesters and detach the activists from their cement-sleeves. Members of the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group and Emergency Service Unit were then called in, along with a set of power tools and a helicopter flying overhead, in order to arrest and disperse protesters. Traffic at the intersection came a standstill for a little less than an hour, but the police eventually sawed through the cement-sleeves and arrested each of the seven people blocking the street one by one as crowds of protesters and onlookers cheered. One woman was also arrested for using a megaphone without a permit.
While organizers are still waiting for the arrestees to be released, they saw the action as a success and plan to continue fighting to keep immigrants safe from ICE raids.
“We wanted to have this action today to call attention to the terror that immigrant communities have to deal with and to make sure the news goes far and wide across the country that we’re ready to take action here in New York City,” Mohit said. “We’re going to continue to take action, and we’re not going to stop until every immigrant family in this country is safe.”