Syracuse activists issue ICE eviction orders

August 13, 2018

Dana Cloud reports on a direct action challenging ICE in upstate New York, where the dairy industry exploits undocumented workers and ICE hunts them down.

TEN ACTIVISTS were arrested after engaging in direct action to block an entrance to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in downtown Syracuse on July 31. The arrests occurred after a rally at the Federal Building and march to ICE headquarters, which are located in a privately owned building.

The rally and march called for abolishing ICE and were sponsored and organized by the Workers’ Center of Central New York, Immigrant and Refugee Defense Project, International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Democratic Socialists of America, among other endorsers.

The dairy industry in rural upstate New York widely employs immigrant workers, who live under constant fear of discovery and deportation.

Though immigrant workers are denied basic rights such as the right to drive a car, they work grueling hours for very little pay under unsafe conditions. Further complicating the workers’ predicament, ICE is constantly on the prowl — not to reprimand the employers who take advantage of undocumented workers, but to arrest, detain and deport the workers themselves.

Immigrant rights activists block the entrance to an ICE office in Syracuse
Immigrant rights activists block the entrance to an ICE office in Syracuse (Sam Norton)

Several speakers addressed the crowd about the need to escalate action against ICE in order to bring greater awareness to the issues surrounding the kidnapping and deportation of immigrants across the U.S.

A Workers' Center activist discussed the campaign to win driver’s licenses for immigrant workers, and an ISO speaker addressed how Democratic Party politicians support the free movement of capital across borders but not the free movement of workers. After the speeches, the group marched several blocks to the ICE building.

At a previous demonstration on June 30, activists hung a banner over the entrance to the building reading, “ICE kidnaps immigrants here: Abolish ICE!” Activists decorated the back gate used by ICE vans with posters, flowers and butterflies, which symbolize migration because of their own migratory patterns.

On this day, activists sought to press their challenge to ICE even further. The rally gathered in the lobby of the multiuse building, which contains restaurants and apartments as well as ICE offices. After chants of “Abolish ICE!” and “Evict Ice!” Workers’ Center leader Rebecca Fuentes and the author of this article together read an “Eviction Notice” in English and Spanish:

This is a notice of eviction. We have found your office and its counterparts in violation of a series of basic human rights. In Syracuse, you have intimidated the entire immigrant community by establishing checkpoints in public places and on public transportation, by invading or threatening to invade the homes of residents, and through the aggressive interrogations of our community members.

You have kidnapped dozens Syracuse residents. You have traumatized the family members and children of abductees by leaving them to fend for themselves with already scarce resources while dealing with the abduction of their relatives and the fear of being abducted themselves...

Your organization represents the worst of racist white nationalism, xenophobia, the prison industrial complex, state militarism and the capitalist ruling class that benefits from those ills. For these reasons, we hereby demand that you leave our city.

MEANWHILE, 10 activists prepared for civil disobedience linked arms and blocked a corridor leading to the ICE office.

The police were quick to arrive, and they came in numbers. At least 20 police dragged away the 10 people blockading the entrance and then began forcefully pushing the rest of the protesters out of the lobby, injuring one medic and roughly handling others.

Those who hadn’t been arrested went to the jail to await their friends’ release. The authorities decided to throw the book at the activists who were arrested. For a simple violation (not even a misdemeanor) of trespass, the activists were booked, required to have mug shots and fingerprints taken, placed into handcuffs and chains, and arraigned hours later.

Activists packed the arraignment hearing at 6 p.m. to witness our comrades receiving their trial dates.

Several lawyers and activists commented that such unusually harsh treatment indicated that ICE was using its influence to pressure the District Attorney. That impression was further substantiated when, rather than releasing the activists after arraignment, they held the group for several more hours until the absolute deadline for release, 11:59 p.m.

The assembled crowd celebrated their release and heard their stories. The activists who had been arrested received kid-glove treatment, according to what other inmates told them. “If that was the police being nice, I’d hate to see them when they’re not,” said one of the released activists.

The activists were held in filthy gender-segregated cells while awaiting arraignment in isolation. Activist Brian Escobar and others described the dehumanizing arrangement of concrete corridors and unmarked doors leading to nowhere:

I underestimated the feeling of being in a concrete room with concrete benches and locked steel doors with zero control and absolutely nothing to interact with except the people you are with, who are crucial. It made me think of animal sanctuaries and zoos...One strange event was when a group of 20 people entered the booking area on some kind of tour. They were smiling and laughing.

THE POLICE also demonstrated appalling transphobia toward our trans and non-binary activists.

Dean Cunningham, a youth defining themselves as “gender-queer,” told us about being asked whether they were male or female. Upon their attempts to explain, Dean said, one officer asked whether they had a penis. Another told Dean that they were female in the eyes of the state. Then the same officer later called Dean a “ladyboy” and continually mis-gendered them.

Dean was shifted back and forth between the gender-segregated cells and was set to be arraigned last because they could not be identified by a rigid gender category. “There’s no good reason that people should be separated by sex,” said Dean. “They’re just using it as a way to divide and conquer us.”

At the August 6 hearing for the “Evict ICE 10,” defense attorneys and a representative from the DA’s office argued before a judge, and the judge assigned our friends yet another date, August 24, for actual trials — for violations amounting to little more than a traffic ticket.

Activists packed the court and cheered the arrestees when they were released. Escobar expressed appreciation for the solidarity shown to the arrestees by other activists:

I am proud to have been arrested with these wonderful friends — new and old — for the cause of abolishing ICE. And we are proud to face the consequences because what ICE is doing to our community members cannot be tolerated. Everyone must do their part to end it.

In the meantime, activists are strategizing for how to best defend our comrades and build the movement against not only ICE, but also this appalling treatment — which, of course, go hand in hand.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said about civil disobedience, the point is to “dramatize a shameful condition.” The Syracuse Police Department and the ICE agents who terrorize our neighbors should indeed be ashamed.

Dean Cunningham and Brian Escobar contributed to this article.

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