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Troubling Developments

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

On Wednesday the Immigration and Customs Enforcement regional office in Portland was closed by the agency due to security concerns following "two days of raucous heckling and disruption from Portland demonstrators" (Dirk VanderHart, ICE Temporarily Shutters Portland Facility Due To 'Occupy' Protest, OPB, June 20, 2018). The protest calling itself Occupy ICE PDX began Sunday evening.

On Monday protesters blocked vehicles attempting to enter and leave the ICE facility at 4310 SW Macadam Avenue. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that by Wednesday morning nearly thirty tents had been erected, at least seven on the driveway to the building.

An Occupy ICE spokesperson said the occupation would continue until four demands are satisfied:

  • that the ICE facility and ICE operations be removed from the city of Portland,

  • that children separated from their families be returned and receive adequate healthcare,

  • that the US cease incarcerating asylum seekers, and

  • that ICE be totally abolished. (Jason Wilson, 'Occupy Ice': activists blockade Portland building over family separations, The Guardian, June 20, 2018)

I wonder how clearly these were thought out. For instance, the fourth demand, abolition of ICE, would seem to make the first superfluous.

Occupy camps inspired by the Portland protest began appearing in other cities on Wednesday.

On Tuesday members of the Democratic Socialists of America heckled and booed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she dined at an upscale Mexican restaurant near the White House. Yesterday White House senior adviser Stephen Miller was heckled and called a fascist by diners at another Mexican restaurant in DC. The absurdity, a spectacle almost surreal, of high-ranking officials intimately involved in the immigration crisis at the Mexican border dining at Mexican restaurants seems to be lost on Nielsen and Miller.

This morning activists affiliated with CREDO Action and Casa in Action gathered outside Nielsen's townhouse with a loudspeaker playing an audio clip of detained children crying for their parents. The groups reportedly intend to continue to engage in public confrontation with regime officials (Kelly Weill, Cries of Immigrant Kids Will Follow Trump Officials, Activists Promise, The Daily Beast, June 22, 2018).

My kneejerk response is a profound uneasiness. The Occupy ICE protest and the harassment of Nielsen and Miller have the flavor of mob action and vigilantism that inflict further damage on a tattered social fabric. However honorable the protesters' intentions, however just the cause, their actions are of a kind that should be undertaken only with great reluctance, after much forethought, when a juncture has been reached where nothing less can suffice.

Occupy ICE's hardline demands and confrontational tactics distinguish their action from last week's Thawing ICE demonstration sponsored by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice in which I participated. Absolutist demands such as abolition of ICE are a recipe for a prolonged, tedious, and in the end fruitless standoff or, worse, violence.

Trump and his camp can be counted on to paint this week's protests as efforts to disrupt government operations and deter officials and agents from doing their lawful jobs. They will try to make the conversation be about this instead of the mistreatment of immigrant children and of their parents seeking asylum. To whatever degree they succeed, and they almost surely will to some degree, it will redound to their advantage.

Public outcry, mindful protests, and other civic action as the effects of the regime's "zero tolerance" policy were reported have moved the debate in a positive direction. Now is not the time to turn back. Our side occupies the moral high ground. I hope we will try to keep it that way.

These are initial thoughts, provisional and subject to reconsideration. I expect that people of good will may disagree.

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