Feathered Bastard

Phoenix ICE Building Turns Into Party Zone for Protesters

They came, they saw, they protested, they partied.

I'm talking about the local pro-immigrant activists who have been promising for at least a few weeks now to "shut down" the Phoenix Field Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday, October 14.

Though Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday, the ICE building on Central Avenue just north of McDowell Road is a detention facility, and as such, never closes completely, according to one former ICE agent I know.

(Note: The local spokeswoman for ICE has been furloughed due to the government shutdown. No other spokesperson for ICE could be reached Monday.)

Certainly, the ICE building appeared vacant. Its entrance bore a letter informing the public that the office would be closed from October 11 to October 14, and reopen for business Tuesday, October 15.

Check out NotOneMoreDeportation.com for more info on the campaign of the same name by NDLON and Puente.

As a result, the 300 or so demonstrators from organizations such as the Phoenix human rights group Puente and the California-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, declared victory following a short afternoon march from Margaret T. Hance Park further south on Central.

To celebrate, they held an impromptu fiesta in front of the ICE structure, with a DJ, dancing, and food.

Banners and signs decrying President Obama's deportation policies hung from ICE's gates. A giant female puppet, her arms outstretched, seemed to symbolically halt ICE in its tracks.

There was a significant police presence. And a handful of hillbilly haters from the roughneck anti-immigrant group Remember 1986 held a counter-demonstration across the street.

Nevertheless, the mood remained celebratory and festive.

"No one's going to be deported from this building today," Puente organizer Carlos Garcia told me. "Even on Christmas, New Year's, any of the federal holidays, people are still processed through this building and deported. So for today at least, we stopped deportations in the city of Phoenix."

Garcia was arrested Friday in Tucson during an action wherein some 20 people stopped two buses of migrants and blocked an entrance to the federal courthouse, briefly halting Operation Streamline, a controversial federal program that prosecutes scores of migrants at a time during mass trials in Tucson and other Southwestern cities.

He and others taken into custody by the Tucson Police Department were charged with hindering prosecution, a class 5 felony in Arizona.

Yet, video footage of the event does not show Garcia or fellow arrestee and organizer Sandra Castro engaging in civil disobedience.

At Monday's demonstration, Castro joked that the facilities and the food in the Pima County Jail are much better than in the Maricopa County Jail.

"The AC isn't as blasting cold like it is in the Fourth Avenue Jail," the veteran activist said with a laugh. "They have unlimited sandwiches [in the Pima jail]...peanut butter, tuna and bologna, and it's clean...they have toilet paper. I'd rather be in Pima [jail] than Maricopa [jail], that's for sure."

Castro believes she and Garcia were targeted by the TPD, as a way for the authorities to send a message to the activist community. She also related that the Tucson cops were aware of the Phoenix demonstration coming up, and tried pumping the activists for info on Monday's demo.

Garcia's lawyer Ray Ybarra, who was at the Phoenix protest, told me that Garcia had served as the designated liaison from the activists to law enforcement, and yet was arrested by TPD anyway.

At one point during Monday's event, a crew of Phoenix cops showed up with riot helmets. For a moment, it seemed as if the situation might turn ugly.

Cooler heads prevailed. Those officers were soon replaced with others who lacked riot gear.

There had been some civil disobedience in Eloy, Arizona earlier on Monday as several protesters reportedly chained themselves together in front of an entrance to the Eloy Detention Center, run by the private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America.

But none of the demonstrators were cited or arrested, according to Eloy Police Chief Bill Pitman.

In fact, I was told by local activists that those present at the Eloy protest traveled to Phoenix to participate in the march to ICE's Central Avenue facility.

Some of the demonstrators on hand had traveled from California and other states for the event. Garcia explained that this was due to a conference over the weekend put on by Puente and NDLON.

"There's come a point where immigration reform is likely not going to happen," Garcia explained. "So the conference was about, what do we do now? What are the alternatives to comprehensive immigration reform? How do we change local policies? How do we change federal and administrative policies to stop deportations?"

This is but one day in a long struggle, Garcia observed.

"I think what we've shown is that the community can stop deportations," Garcia said. "And we're hoping that the people who are from out of town go and replicate it where they're from."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons