Paolo Henriquez stood among a couple hundred people gathered Wednesday to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at its Washington, D.C., headquarters, encouraged by the outpouring of support for immigrants targeted by the agency.
But the immigrant rights activist from Virginia had to wonder: What took so long for people to wake up to the criminalization of immigrant families, led by ICE and its “inhumane” policies?
“It’s great people are out here, but they should’ve been engaged a long time ago,” said Henriquez, citing the immigration policies executed by the Obama administration. “What were you doing? What took you so long?”
Wednesday’s protest against ICE at its eight-floor headquarters in Washington was among many actions against the agency after the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy led to U.S. officials tearing apart immigrant families at the southern border and putting children in detention centers. The action was organized by Movimiento Cosecha, an organization that advocates for undocumented people.
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Chants of “No human being is illegal” and “Shut down ICE” rang out along 12th Street in Southwest D.C., as police looked on—some snickering, others glaring at the marchers circling ICE headquarters. Protesters locked arms and blocked the street in front of ICE headquarters before forming a line and calling for the dismantling of the agency, as candidates and lawmakers increasingly embrace the platform of ending ICE.
An activist pointed her bullhorn toward the sprawling ICE office building and shouted at the workers visible through windows, “What work are you doing?”
“Quit your jobs,” the crowd chanted in unison.
Organizers said immigrants were hesitant to join Wednesday’s protest against ICE for fear of retaliation. Reproductive justice activist Alejandra Pablos in March was detained by ICE agents for what immigrant rights activists described as retaliation for Pablos participating in a Virginia protest. Maru Mora-Villalpando, an immigrant rights advocate in Washington state, was targeted by ICE late last year after she mentioned being undocumented in a newspaper interview. An ICE official noted her “extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests and Latino advocacy programs,” the Associated Press reported.
Protest organizers encouraged protesters to stand up for undocumented families and to protect them from ICE persecution.
“This is state-sanctioned child abuse,” said Nadia Salazar, an activist who joined Wednesday’s protest, citing the Trump administration’s family separation policy, which the president claimed to end last week with an executive order. “There’s no way anyone should be OK with what’s happening. It has to end.”
David Barrows, a D.C. resident and activist since the Vietnam era, walked alongside the protesters dressed in a suit jacket and a President Trump mask. He said he was heartened by the support for immigrant families as the Trump administration detains people coming to the United States seeking asylum.
“I think there’s something in the American soul that resists this,” Barrows said. “It’s dawned on people that something is very wrong. This government is vicious and has been vicious for a long, long time.”
“The cruelty,” Barrows said, stopping to pose for a photo, “has become intolerable …. We don’t want to become Nazi Germany, and I think people are seeing we’re headed down that path.”
A city resident who didn’t want her name published said nationwide marches advocating for immigrant families that are being rounded up by ICE is hardly a bright side to the fallout of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
“There are kids being ripped away from their families,” she said. “How can there be a silver lining to that?”