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Portland Demonstrators Protest Child Separations By 'Occupying' ICE

Dirk VanderHart
People camp along trolley tracks outside the ICE facility in southwest Portland.

New hardline immigration policies from the federal government have led to backlash nationwide. And in Oregon, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has an occupation on its hands.

Since Sunday night, a small but growing group of demonstrators has camped outside of an ICE outpost in Southwest Portland. They’ve peppered the nondescript brick building with signs saying things like “This is an ICE building” and “concentration camp." They’ve blocked cars attempting to enter and leave the facility—so far without any serious challenge from law enforcement.

The demonstration has been dubbed Occupy ICE PDX. Organizers believe it’s the first protest of its kind at an ICE facility.

“Our message is that this is not normal,” 25-year-old Marley Delgado said Tuesday morning, standing outside the building. “It’s not OK and this is a crime against humanity.”

Participants say the idea for the demonstration came to them Sunday. A vigil had been planned that night outside of the ICE outpost, to protest new policies that separate immigrant parents from their children. But the vigil ended. And people stayed.

“There were a bunch of us left standing in the driveway afterward still mad,” said Hanna Tashjian, 25. “We didn’t want to go home. There was more work to do.”

“A group of us all decided together that it’s time to shut down ICE, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Tony Hadden, a 40-year-old Portlander. “We can’t let this go on.”

The movement is small, but growing. By Monday evening, two tents sat outside the ICE building. The following morning, there were six, and around 20 people stood outside the ICE facility bearing signs. Donations of food, water and other provisions have arrived, too.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so well-fed in an action in my life,” Tashjian said.

The protest’s “occupy” tag is a call back to the Occupy Wall Street movement that sprang up in New York City in 2011. That movement began a Portland chapter, Occupy Portland, that blossomed into a raucous encampment in two downtown Portland parks.

This time, protesters are tapping into a national backlash against a “zero tolerance” policy that prosecutes anyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally — even those seeking asylum from persecution or danger in their home countries. The policy has raised intense scrutiny, because authorities have forcibly removed thousands of children from parents after detention.

Some of those parents have been transported to a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon—a development that members of Oregon's congressional delegation derided over the weekend. 

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.