Police arrested 17 members of a day-long Abolish ICE protest in Miramar, Florida, after the group blocked a roadway in the Miami-area city for several hours on Wednesday.
Several officers wore heavy riot gear at the scene and at one point a group arrived in full camo carrying rifles, even though the demonstrators employed strictly non-violent tactics to shut down the streets outside a locally-notorious Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. A police spokeswoman said the 17 would be charged with unlawful assembly and blocking a roadway.
The Miramar facility is a particularly notorious link in ICE’s nation-wide chain. It is primarily a detention facility, and the hundreds kept there have reportedly been deprived of adequate water and left to bake in the sun during the day. Many kept at the site were victims of so-called “silent raids” — people who showed up for a scheduled check-in with immigration officials only to be arrested and moved into deportation proceedings. City leaders approved a resolution earlier this year demanding ICE improve its treatment of people kept there, though protesters said they are frustrated the city hasn’t been able to do more.
“After many conversations, many petitions, the mayor told us he didn’t have the power” to close the federal facility, a protester with the Florida Immigrant Coalition explained in Spanish during a live video broadcast from the scene. “But the truth is he does have the power to close this facility, and we’ve gotten to a point where we have activists who decided to stay in the street risking arrest so that the mayor will take action.”
Mayor Wayne Messam told ThinkProgress he and his staff took a long, hard look to see what leverage they might have with ICE, but found none.
“There is no permit to be revoked. There is no permit that DHS has for that site. There just is none. The federal government doesn’t have to ask for permission to conduct operations wherever they might be,” Messam said. He expressed sympathy for the protests, underscored that Miramar resources cannot be used for any immigration enforcement activity on city property, and said he’d stopped by earlier in the day when it became clear that some in the protest group intended to stay put until they were dragged away.
“We do not necessarily disagree that we don’t want ICE in our city, with what the protesters are asking. We just think they’re misinformed in terms of our authority,” Messam said. “My personal position is that, because the city cannot stop the operations, my concern is that while they work to improve their accommodations at that site, that we provide the temporary provisions to provide adequate shelter.”
Officials in other cities where Abolish ICE has been especially vocal — most notably Portland, Oregon — have come to similar determinations. Elected leaders and city attorneys there reviewed their deal with ICE and found that they’d have no legal standing to pull the agency’s permission slip to use the land — a theory that remains as yet untested in court.
The bloc of Miramar protesters who took the intersection Wednesday morning placed their arms inside heavy PVC pipe, linking together in two short human chains. Such physical barriers along the extremities of protesters are a venerated nonviolent protest tactic which places the onus on law enforcement to remove people without causing serious injury. A live video of the arrests showed protesters lying still on the street as officers crouched over them, apparently cutting apart the piping. There were no injuries on either side, the Miramar PD spokeswoman said.
The group had come with supplies for a long sit-in, the protester-narrator explained, including umbrellas to shade people from the south Florida sun, coolers of ice and water, and chairs on which the heavy plastic tubes could rest.
“After several hours leaving us in the sun, the Miramar Police came and took away the water, made us take down the umbrellas. They took away the chairs that were keeping the tubes aloft, hoping that that we would be defeated, that we would get tired,” he said. “But at the end of the day, our families’ futures depend on what we’re doing today. We’re not going to let [ICE] keep terrorizing our families.”
As the afternoon rains pushed through the Miami area and soaked the protesters, police continued to watch and wait. But shortly after 5:30 p.m. local time, their patience ran out. Police told the demonstrators to leave or face arrest and the majority of those who’d been there throughout the day took the opportunity to depart, the police spokeswoman said. Messam praised the police department’s patience and said that his city officials had sought to balance the protesters’ rights to take action against the needs of the rest of the community on the roadways, ultimately deciding to move in and make arrests after “more than five hours.”
“We’re on their side. We did not go rushing in there arresting protesters,” he said. “The immigrant community here has an immigrant for a mayor. Our entire commission is immigrants. I’m a first-gen American. We’re very sensitive to the issue. I think I’m best equipped to balance enforcing our city’s laws and ordinances while having he compassion and the perspective to hear the immigrant community’s plight.”
But protesters’ ability to put Messam in a plight of his own illustrates the sheer energy currently attached to the Abolish ICE movement. More than a hashtag or a press conference zinger, the slogan-turned-legislative-aim has galvanized street activism of a different sort from the mass rallies that have occasionally attended the Trump era. While hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities for marches around the 2017 inaugural and in response to the massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school earlier this year, Abolish ICE has attracted a smaller but steadier cadre of street actions that have used nonviolence tactics and the ethos of Occupy Wall Street to challenge the administration’s radical policies on migrant peoples.