To no one’s surprise, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues its nasty ways amid the pandemic—but one town in Oregon won’t have it. Hundreds of protesters came together Wednesday to block two ICE buses that held two residents in Bend, Oregon, captive. The protest lasted almost 12 hours until federal agents arrived and removed the two detainees and some officers, CNN affiliate KTVZ reported. Federal agents allegedly used pepper spray and other “crowd tactics” against protesters.
“I can’t put into words the fear and the terror in their families’ eyes,” Janet Sarai Llerandi, founder of local advocacy group Mecca Bend, told The Washington Post. “It feels like a loss, because ultimately, they hauled them away, and we don’t know where they are now.” The two Bend residents taken away by ICE were identified as Josué Arturo Cruz Sanchez and Marco Zeferino. Both lived in Bend for almost 15 years and each has young children born in the U.S.
Of course, ICE took to criminalizing the detainees to support its actions during the arrest. As it does with any arrest or raid, ICE claimed that the immigrants they arrested presented “a danger to public safety.” "While ICE respects the rights of people to voice their opinion peacefully, that does not include illegally interfering with their federal law enforcement duties," Acting Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said in a statement. "ICE will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its officers and detainees, and will vigorously pursue protection against anyone who puts them in harm's way."
ICE’s “necessary measures” included tear-gassing protesters in addition to holding batons and other riot gear to spread fear, a scene not unfamiliar to those in Portland who experienced violence at the hands of DHS officials last month. According to Llerandi, while one group of federal agents went toward the crowds to face protesters, another went to the bus door, where the two men’s families stood. They not only shoved the families to the ground, including a little girl, Llerandi told The Washington Post, but tear gassed the area with no warning. Agents then took the men out of the bus into another vehicle, the activist said. “This stuff doesn’t happen here,” she said. “We’re supposedly this safe, liberal, progressive town. … There was no way in hell I was going leave once we saw this happen right in front of our eyes.”
The protests began Wednesday afternoon when Luke Richter, president of the activist organization Central Oregon Peacekeepers, heard that some people were detained by ICE. He decided to use Facebook livestream as he stepped in front of two unmarked buses and refused to move. According to KTVZ, it wasn’t long until a crowd gathered around the buses, with Richter demanding that the ICE agents release the immigrants.
Bend Police confirmed ICE agents left the area after midnight via a tweet. Before agents left, the county’s district attorney John Hummel tweeted that he was present at “the scene of the stand-off with ICE and was impressed by the passion and empathy shown by our community." He added that both he and other officials “have been trying to broker a resolution with DHS, to no avail."
The city’s police department assured protesters and residents that it “does not enforce ICE arrests” and deployed officers to the scene “to allow free speech and a peaceful area to assemble and to provide life safety support.” “We are not there in an assisting role with ICE,” the department said on Twitter.
Despite claiming that the city and the police department do not “support ICE” and that Oregon is a sanctuary state, Bend Mayor Sally Russell supported the arrests by rationalizing that they were not an immigration sweep. In a statement on Twitter, Russell requested that protesters leave the area. “This is not a sweep for undocumented immigrants. Let’s please keep our community safe. Please leave peacefully.” She added, " To be clear, in no way do I support ICE. Nor can our Bend Police Force, because Oregon is a sanctuary state and it is illegal. I am very worried for everyone in our community, and especially our Latinx community.”
ICE has a history of repeatedly detaining local residents amid local protests against the agency’s presence. According to The Washington Post, groups have formed human chains around ICE vehicles on multiple occasions in different states, including North Carolina and Tennessee, in order to prevent agents from transporting immigrants to detention centers.
According to The New York Times, attorneys from Innovation Law Lab have filed a motion in federal court to block the deportation of the two detainees.