How Portland Occupiers Shut Down ICE

Protesters kept the facility closed for 10 days. Although federal police reopened it June 28, occupiers say, “The camp is not going anywhere.”

Arun Gupta

Ali King, president of Nasty Women Get Shit Done, protests Portland’s ICE facility on June 22 (L), near #OccupyICEPDX’s encampment (R) (Photos by Arun Gupta (L) and John Rudoff/Sipa-USA (R)).

PORT­LAND, ORE.—Ali King, 48, is stand­ing out­side Portland’s Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) facil­i­ty with a protest sign for the fourth day in a row. She’s pres­i­dent of Nasty Women Get Shit Done, a local resis­tance group that sprung up after Trump’s elec­tion. We can’t tol­er­ate ICE,” she says. It’s kid­nap­ping children.”

The occupation began spontaneously after a half-dozen people who attended a Father’s Day protest at the ICE building camped overnight.

King and her eldest daugh­ter are lend­ing sup­port to hun­dreds of pro­test­ers who’ve band­ed togeth­er as #Occu­py­I­CEPDX and shut down the ICE facil­i­ty since June 18, in one of the most suc­cess­ful protests against Trump’s fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion policy.

The occu­pa­tion began spon­ta­neous­ly after a half-dozen peo­ple who attend­ed a Father’s Day protest at the ICE build­ing camped overnight. By the next day, dozens had arrived, and about 20 pro­test­ers peace­ful­ly blocked the vehi­cles of ICE employ­ees as they left work.

Three Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS) offi­cers threat­ened to arrest any­one who blocked cars. Apart from a lone arrest the next day, the threat turned out to be a bluff.

Port­land police could have swept pro­test­ers aside eas­i­ly, as they did dur­ing an ICE protest in Octo­ber 2017, except they were nowhere to be seen. May­or Ted Wheel­er tweet­ed he didn’t want to see police sucked into a con­flict.” He called the sep­a­ra­tion pol­i­cy an abom­i­na­tion” and indig­nant­ly cit­ed Trump admin­is­tra­tion threats to arrest may­ors of sanc­tu­ary cities like Port­land. In a con­ver­sa­tion wit­nessed by reporter Jason Wil­son, senior may­oral advi­sor Berk Nel­son told two police offi­cers that if police were seen pro­tect­ing ICE employ­ees, then all of a sud­den we’re com­plic­it in baby killing.”

On the third day of the occu­pa­tion, a dozen DHS offi­cers in riot gear escort­ed more than 20 ICE employ­ees out of the build­ing into wait­ing vans. The facil­i­ty had been shut down.

With­in a week, a mini-soci­ety blos­somed out­side. More than 50 tents sprung up, along with a kitchen, child-care cen­ter, first-aid tent, pantry with every­thing from baby food to men­stru­al prod­ucts, and out­door liv­ing room that hosts Shab­bat rit­u­als. This being Port­land, a piz­za own­er hand-deliv­ered sev­en pies, and one evening, an acclaimed South­ern-style restau­rant served roast­ed game hens.

It could be Occu­py Wall Street. Except, as local orga­niz­er Nick Neu­mann, 39, says, It feels a lot more strate­gic. There are a lot more Black and brown peo­ple. We know who the wack-a-doo­dles are. A lot of peo­ple are new­ly con­cerned because of the pol­i­cy of sep­a­ra­tion, and this is a space for radicalization.”

When Ali King is asked about crit­i­cism that lib­er­als didn’t protest Obama’s mass depor­ta­tions, King replied, It’s true. It was white priv­i­lege. Things were going well for us and we got com­pla­cent.” Nasty Women Get Shit Done, which draws more than 100 peo­ple at its meet­ings, encour­ages mem­bers to go out and do things. Don’t just post on Face­book.” King’s sign includes a fly­er that reads, ICE = Trump’s Gestapo.”

Some of the more rad­i­cal occu­piers believe the pres­ence of peo­ple like King helped deter arrests. They joke, The lib­er­als are our human shields.” They could be talk­ing about two reg­is­tered nurs­es in their 60s hang­ing out with youth garbed in punk-casu­al: black tees, torn shorts, pierc­ings, tats. One of the nurs­es says, The Unit­ed States is cul­pa­ble for what is going on in these coun­tries” and men­tions Hillary Clinton’s role in the U.S.-backed coup in Honduras.

On June 28, after the facil­i­ty had been shut down for 10 days, dozens of DHS police swooped in short­ly after dawn and cleared the front entrance of the ICE build­ing of pro­test­ers, arrest­ing eight peo­ple, sev­en of whom were charged with mis­de­meanors. While DHS police reopened the facil­i­ty, it took them more than a day to clear pro­test­ers from a road along­side the build­ing because of lim­its to their juris­dic­tion. That night, about 400 peo­ple gath­ered for a vig­il, and dozens stayed in the streets all night, peace­ful­ly fac­ing off against police.

Occu­piers say civil­ian vehi­cles returned to the ICE facil­i­ty on Fri­day. The Occu­py camp remained, as it sits on land con­trolled by local and state gov­ern­ment agen­cies. Luis Mar­quez, who has been with #Occu­py­I­CEPDX since it began, says, The camp is not going any­where. We are here.” There was no indi­ca­tion that vans and bus­es used for detain­ing and trans­port­ing arrest­ed immi­grants were in oper­a­tion, and calls to ICE for com­ment had not been returned as of press time.

Portland’s exam­ple has spread to oth­er cities, with pro­test­ers occu­py­ing, blockad­ing and camp­ing out­side ICE offices in New York, Los Ange­les, Chica­go, Detroit and Tacoma.

Ruben Lopez, 40, a con­struc­tion work­er and pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er, chanced upon a sol­i­dar­i­ty ral­ly at City Hall.

Lopez came over undoc­u­ment­ed with his moth­er from Guatemala City at age 12. He says the pho­tographs of chil­dren in cages threw him back to the time he was detained in a boy’s home in Guatemala, where he would cry him­self to sleep. Thick as a line­backer and sport­ing a head tat­too that reads, Trust no one,” Lopez says the pho­tos made him feel help­less.”

On the edge of the City Hall protest, Lopez shoots black-and-white pho­tos. A lot of His­pan­ic peo­ple have faced racism by white peo­ple,” he says. Nine­ty-five per­cent of the peo­ple here are white, and I want­ed to doc­u­ment this. I want­ed to show, Here’s white peo­ple fight­ing for our kids.’ ”

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH