By Tea Kvetenadze and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Small groups of protesters in cities across the United States are camping outside offices used by federal immigration agents, seeking to disrupt deportations in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration.
The protests, which began last week in Portland, Oregon, were spurred by news and images of migrant children from Central America being separated from their parents after crossing the U.S. southern border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, organizers said.
The protests have since spread to New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago, among other cities, causing minor disruptions to immigration officials, and in some cases criticized as well meaning but misguided by immigrant rights groups.
Led by local anarchist organizations and chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, the protests are calling for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE was created in 2003 by Republican President George W. Bush in response to the attacks by al Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001.
“People are missing and there’s just an incredible amount of criminalization and dehumanization that’s happening,” Marisa Holmes, an organizer from the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, said in an interview outside an ICE facility and immigration court in Manhattan. “And we just have to say this is enough. We’ve got to abolish ICE.”
Some insurgent Democratic candidates ahead of November’s congressional and state elections have campaigned on ending ICE, a notion a small number of Democratic members of the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress have begun to embrace.
The so-called Occupy ICE protests are modeling themselves on the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in 2011. The New York City encampment began last week, with protesters blocking some of the vehicle entrances at an ICE facility.
The agency decided to suspend transporting immigrants to the building on Monday due “to attempts by certain groups to disrupt ICE operations through spreading misinformation and advocating violence against ICE employees,” according to a statement by ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow.
The U.S. Justice Department, which runs the immigration court system, said it would reschedule court hearings that had been canceled on Monday and Tuesday’s hearings would be held by a video link if necessary.
Groups that provided legal services to immigrants said they saw the protests as well intentioned but harmful to their clients.
Ravi Ragbir, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, said some hearings postponed today would not be rescheduled until August and that they have pleaded with the protesters to try other tactics.
“We have told them how disruptive this is and the fact that the families, the loved ones, have to be in detention for two more months is very traumatic for their families,” he said.
In response to the criticism, the New York protesters had moved their signs, food supplies and tarpaulins across the street by Tuesday morning.
Protesters in Portland were told to clear out with fliers issued by the Federal Protective Service on Monday, the Oregonian newspaper reported. The protesters could face arrest for obstructing federal property.
(Corrects paragraph 11 to add missing word ‘of’.)
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Trott)