Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has put some New York City operations on hold while a protest outside Manhattan’s main ICE facility stretched into its fifth day.
On Thursday, demonstrators set up camp outside a downtown ICE processing center that houses an immigration court and a temporary immigrant detention facility. By Friday, ICE was smuggling detainees out a freight exit reserved for the U.S. Postal Service in order to avoid the demonstrators. By Monday, ICE had postponed all immigration hearings in the building, without clear plans to resume.
“The original call was for a 24/7 presence to occupy this space and call for the abolition of ICE,” Marisa Holmes, an activist with the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council told The Daily Beast. The group has been a leading coordinator of the demonstration, which began at the ICE processing center at 201 Varick St. Thursday night. On Monday morning, approximately a dozen protesters were blocking the facility’s doors.
Holmes said she and other activists were inspired by an occupation-style protest outside an ICE detention center in Portland, Oregon. Beginning June 17, activists blocked all entrances to the facility, leading to its closure last week. Before dawn on Monday, Department of Homeland Security police re-entered the facility, although it is unclear when the facility will reopen, or whether federal authorities will attempt to remove the demonstrators camping outside.
Now 201 Varick St. is undergoing a shutdown of its own. On Sunday, the Department of Justice sent an email to immigration attorneys informing them that “there will be no cases heard at Varick Street on Monday due to the protests,” Gothamist reported.
“I’ve been told by immigration lawyers that it’s indefinite,” Holmes said of the shutdown.
“Hearings at the Varick Street Immigration Court are expected to resume as soon as public access to the detention facility is available,” the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which administers immigration hearings, told The Daily Beast in an email.
But as of Monday, the demonstrators weren’t moving.
Malú Huacuja del Toro, an acclaimed Mexican author who now lives in New York was among the small crowd sitting outside 201 Varick St.’s loading bays on Monday. The doors, which usually open to admit vans full of detained immigrants, were covered with anti-ICE posters. Leaning off a railing across the street, a young boy slowly sounded out the slogans to a friend: crush, melt, block ICE all summer.
“I want to show the Mexican people what the model of America is,” Huacuja del Toro told The Daily Beast of the demonstrators camped out around the building. “They’re very brave and they are winning a major victory today. They stopped deportations today.”
It’s unclear whether authorities will crack down on the 24/7 occupation. Until Monday, NYPD officers had patrolled the demonstration, arresting one person for allegedly obstructing an ICE van as it attempted to leave the facility Thursday night. Holmes said officers had thrown some demonstrators to the ground in the scuffle, but that police had otherwise kept their distance.
On Monday morning, DHS police showed up in force for the first time. The federal authorities asked demonstrators not to block doors used by other agencies that work in the 201 Varick St. building, including a passport office and post office.
“They want to be able to have access to those other things, so we’ve been accommodating because we don’t have any problem with the post office as an institution,” Holmes said. “We want postal workers to be able to do their jobs.”
But when protesters stopped monitoring the post office loading bay, ICE used it to ship out a van full of detained immigrants, Holmes and another demonstrator who witnessed the event said.
“We got word that there was a van that was rerouted—because they couldn’t use these exits—to the post office exit, which they used to take people out,” Holmes said, adding that she saw six handcuffed men being loaded into a van in the post office exit. “So this is the game they’re playing with the building: the idea that they don’t use the other docks for exits is wrong.
By noon on Monday, DHS officers had reclaimed an ICE loading dock door; officers had asked to pass through to collect records, a demonstrator said. When demonstrators let them through, officers took up position outside the door, encroaching on the bright banners and lawn chairs blocking the other doors.
Huacuja del Toro said she wanted ICE agents to consider their actions.
“If they cannot quit the job that is so inhumane, they should question why are we doing this, is this the country we want to live in?” she said. “I think they should think about these things, because they are dehumanizing immigrants. They are dehumanizing babies and kids. That is the program of the state right now. That’s the beginning of fascism.”