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Federal cops dig in for indefinite standoff with ICE occupiers in Portland

At least nine people were arrested, but the main protester camp inches away is outside federal jurisdiction.

Federal officers block two corners outside an ICE facility in Oregon as protesters camped on public property remain next door. CREDIT: KGW-TV/Screencap
Federal officers block two corners outside an ICE facility in Oregon as protesters camped on public property remain next door. CREDIT: KGW-TV/Screencap

Scores of federal cops in full riot gear swept protesters off the entryway to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in Oregon on Thursday but left the protesters’ main encampment next door untouched.

The feds expect to remain on-site indefinitely, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman told local KGW-TV, presumably to prevent the camp residents from re-occupying the entrance.

“Federal Protective Service is going to be here for a little while. You’re going to see us here for the forseeable future,” he said. “I don’t know a timeline and I don’t even want to speculate on a timeline but you could see us here for the next couple of days.”

The officers arrested eight protesters in the initial early-morning sweep of the entryway, which Occupy ICE PDX activists have physically blocked for days. A ninth protester was later arrested on the federal side of the property line where the feds had set up a skirmish line. It’s unclear as yet what charges they might face, a government spokesman told the Oregonian, but a twitter feed run by protesters claimed that arresting officers had threatened felonies.

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Helicopter cameras showed other law enforcement personnel taking up positions on adjacent rooftops and leaning their rifles against the rampart. But all sides appear resigned to a long standoff, save for the music that occasionally played from protester speakers on Thursday and the shouts of protesters urging officers to contemplate what it is they are protecting.

Though conditions seemed to have settled in by noon eastern time, there were tense moments earlier in the sweep. KGW’s chopper captured a group of eight camo-wearing riflemen stopping a black Audi and detaining the driver — who appeared to be a middle-aged woman in sandals and a black dress — early in the day. The ninth arrest prompted protesters on the other side of the line to cluster angrily, demanding to know why officers had “hogtied” the woman. At one point a woman with the protest group got into a shouting match with a large man in orange who had multiple cameras and was, judging by the slogans he shouted, there to cover the event for a conservative audience supportive of ICE.

Any more direct confrontations would have taken place before cameras got to the scene, as officers initially arrived to the site before dawn. News directors occasionally cut away from cameras on the ground to avoid broadcasting the odd exposed breast or particularly vulgar chant.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) has said he will not send city personnel in to assist the feds in breaking up the protest. Unless he reverses course, or someone from within the camp initiates some sort of aggressive violence that has not yet been employed by the protesters, Thursday afternoon’s state of play could go on forever since the camp is on public property. Although city police did appear to help block surrounding roads some distance from the ICE facility in the morning, according to pictures tweeted by locals, Wheeler has said he’s not going to get his people any more deeply involved in the showdown.

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Dozens of tents and other temporary shelters dot the alley adjacent to the ICE building, with the feds impotent to cross the property line and protesters promising to stay as long as it takes.

The scene — alternatingly tense and farcical — suggests that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going to have a weird time enforcing his promise last Saturday to punish anyone who interferes with ICE or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. The two agencies are charged with enacting Sessions’ and President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, including the forcible separation of more than 2,000 migrant families at the border this spring.

Those policies have helped turn calls to “Abolish ICE” from a web-leftist fantasy into a nascent policy plank for politicians hoping to drag the Democratic Party onto a clearer moral footing on immigration.

The Occupy ICE effort in Portland hearkens back to the most recent high-water mark of tangible left influence on national politics: The 2011 Occupy Wall Street campaign. The camps that sprung up in connection to that cause were eventually busted up with extreme prejudice by city police in New York and federal cops in Washington, D.C. But by providing a fixed, physically tangible, and visually grabby nexus for media figures, Occupy’s tactics also succeeded in injecting populist leftism directly into conversations that are otherwise policed by centrist-minded gatekeepers in both the media and the Democratic Party establishment.

As applied to ICE in the era of Trump — who wants police to rough people up on spec, and to view themselves as soldiers in a war against black, Latinx, and leftist critics — the Occupy tactic seemed primed to replicate the brutal, ugly scenes from camp breakdowns in New York and D.C. in 2011. Thursday’s visuals were less dramatic, and the raid’s outcome less decisive. ICE employees can now get freely in and out of their Portland facility for the first time in days. But unless DHS feels like paying hazard time to riot-geared officers for the rest of time — or protesters get tired and head home — the strange standoff could just become part of the Portland geography.