More than three dozen protesters still stood in front of the Denver-area office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Centennial late Thursday afternoon in an hours-long occupation of the …
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After President Donald Trump’s administration announced a “zero-tolerance” policy in April to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible, children were separated from families on a wide scale during the detention process for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration reversed course to an extent with an executive order June 20 that aimed to detain and hold migrant families together.
A federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite all the families by the end of July 26, the Associated Press reported. The federal government was directed to reunify more than 2,500 children, and the Trump administration said July 26 that more than 1,800 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited with parents and sponsors, but hundreds remained apart, the AP reported.
A person’s first offense of illegal entry into the U.S. is a misdemeanor, but previous administrations have made exceptions, such as for parents traveling with minor children, according to The New York Times — though President Barack Obama's administration detained adults and children together before a court ruling limited the amount of time children could be held in immigration detention. After, an exception was effectively made for parents and children to be released while they await court proceedings.
This story has been updated to reflect law enforcement's clarification that protesters were detained and given federal citations, but only one was arrested.
Protesters stood vastly outnumbered by local deputies, SWAT and federal police in front of the local office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Centennial Aug. 2, yelling messages on a megaphone, singing songs and in some cases getting in officers' unmoving faces as they blocked the ICE parking lot.
The crowd protested the separation of children from migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, a federal practice that was later reversed, though hundreds of children remain separated from parents who were deported while their children were detained.
Eight protesters who used material to bond their arms in a blockade of two entrances to the parking lot were detained by Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office deputies and federal police. Seven received federal citations and were released at the scene, according to Julie Brooks, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.
One was arrested after refusing to provide identification, Brooks said. That protester was taken to the Arapahoe County jail and was to be transported to a U.S. marshal's office, she added. All eight protesters were released, a spokeswoman with the protest said noon Aug. 3 in a news release.
The protest, organized in part by longtime activist and undocumented immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra, arrived in front of the Denver Field Office at 12445 E. Caley Ave. in Centennial the evening of July 29 and was planned to last a week, Vizguerra said. About 15 people slept at the encampment on the first night, she said.
On Aug. 1, before the parking-lot entrances were blocked, ICE commented on the protest.
ICE "fully respects the constitutional rights of all people to peacefully express their opinions," said Carl Rusnok, a regional ICE spokesman. "ICE remains committed to performing its immigration-enforcement mission consistent with federal law and agency policy."
Rusnok declined to offer comments on the Aug. 2 scene at the protest. The Denver Field Office's area of responsibility includes Colorado and Wyoming.
A verbal clash
More than three dozen protesters stood on the sidewalk and street in front of the office late afternoon Aug. 2, chanting in Spanish and English as federal police voiced legal warnings against the parking-lot blockades on loudspeaker.
By about 5 p.m., roughly 80 law-enforcement officers total, including Arapahoe County and federal police with the Department of Homeland Security, were on the scene, where two groups of four protesters blocked entrances to the lot.
Dozens of deputies and SWAT personnel from the sheriff's office — both in riot helmets and vests — formed a semi-rectangular line around one of the groups of four. Officers lined up across the width of East Caley Avenue and walked forward as protesters backed up, with one protester who initially refused to move — 29-year-old Hanna Khavafipour — being pushed back by an officer.
One of the protesters later detained reportedly sustained a minor injury that was treated at the scene, Brooks said. No protesters aside from those in the blockades were detained, cited or arrested, Brooks said.
Protesters stood amid signs opposed to President Donald Trump's administration's practice — later reversed — that resulted in separation of children from parents on a wide scale at the U.S.-Mexico border in the detention process for migrants. About 150 protesters were in the crowd in the morning and early afternoon, said Jenn Piper, who identified herself as a "press liaison" for the protest. By mid-afternoon, the number of protesters dwindled to about 40.
That morning, protesters marched in a circle near the parking-lot entrances, Piper said. The arm-link blockades began around 11 a.m., and Homeland Security police arrived about an hour before that, Piper said.
Multiple times in the afternoon, federal police read legal warnings on a loudspeaker, including that "federal fines and/or arrests can occur" for blocking entry or exit to the parking area. At 4 p.m., federal police handed out legal notices to protesters that said those who obstruct parking lots will be subject to arrest.
A 10-minute warning to disperse at about 4:20 p.m. came and went, and after the police presence grew, officers used a tool to remove the material bonding the protesters in the blockades, which Piper said was similar to "PVC pipe."
All the while, a handful of protesters approached and yelled at officers who lined up in front of the bonded protesters, asking questions like, "Are you on the right side of history?" and how they would feel "if they were your children" separated at the border. Other words by protesters included saying officers were supporting white supremacy and imploring them to quit their jobs.
One protester yelled messages at the stone-faced officers including, "I know some of you go to church" and "What would Jesus do?"
Protesters are "putting their freedom on the line for something bigger than themselves," said Tommy, a protester from Aurora who spoke on condition of being identified by first name.
Spurred by family separations
Piper, the protest spokesperson, said the arm-link blockades were planned by Abolish ICE Denver when protesters felt that the July 26 deadline for the federal government to reunite families and children separated at the border would not be met.
"The concern of folks here is that the kids (not yet reunited with families) will end up in foster care," Piper said.
Vizguerra, one of the organizers of the protest, stood among the crowd during the heavy police presence.
“It's not 'immigration is my problem' — it's everybody's problem,” Vizguerra said at the protest July 31.
Vizguerra was named one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2017 and garnered widespread media attention amid an 86-day stay in church sanctuary from immigration enforcement in Denver that year.
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