In the midst of a nationwide heat wave over the weekend, nearly a million demonstrators hit the pavement Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy. In over 700 locales across the country – from cities like El Paso and Albuquerque to the towns of Onancock, Virginia (pop. 67) and Antler, North Dakota (pop. 27) – the streets coursed with protesters. Those who marched had a clear demand: Abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, better known as ICE.
Though it has existed for only 15 years, for many, ICE is an everyday presence. Formed after the attacks of 9/11, ICE was created as part of the Department of Homeland Security. Signaling a shift away from treating immigration as an economic or work-related issue, under ICE’s mandate, regulating the flow of people became, primarily, a national security concern.
At a U.S. Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, dozens convened near a converted warehouse where 200 minors were being detained in cages. In Washington, D.C. – where 575 protesters were arrested for occupying a Senate office last week – roughly 30,000 showed up at a demonstration that made its way to the front of the White House.
The activist energy was palpable everywhere.
“We may have to turn America upside down to turn it right-side up,” Rep. John Lewis told an audience of 4,000 outside Atlanta’s ICE outpost. In Boston, 15,000 crowded City Hall to listen as Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for the abolition of the agency. “We need something that reflects our morality,” Warren said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support for abolishing ICE Friday, one day after Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand staked out the same position. Both arrived at the decision months later than rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old newcomer running for Congress who is already being painted as the future of the party.
“Women seeking refuge with their families at the border have done no wrong – and they’re being criminalized,” Ocasio-Cortez said at an offshoot rally on Saturday in Queens.
Jerry Hassett, a Queens native carrying a Veterans for Peace flag, was one of the estimated 30,000 demonstrators in New York. Hassett, who served in the military in the era between the Korean War and Vietnam, says it’s “reprehensible” he didn’t care more about politics in the Sixties. “So I’m here, trying to make up for lost time.”
All the while, President Trump holed up at his golf club in New Jersey. He dropped by a wedding at the property on Saturday night and spent Sunday morning tweeting praise of ICE.
Doubling-down on the myth that immigrants equal crime, Trump fumed that if those on “the Liberal Left” wants to shelve ICE, they will not only plunge the country into chaos (“rampant and uncontrollable!“), but will also suffer the far worse fate of being “beaten so badly” at the ballot.
“I’m here with the humans,” said Jonathan Rozinsky, a member of the group Occupy ICE NYC who explained that, for the last several days, he and others had been camped out in Foley Square, in a park outside 26 Federal Plaza, where the New York march began. “We’re not obstructing hearings or proceedings, but, specifically, deportations.”
Trump, pumping out a non-stop stream of anti-immigrant rhetoric, has led the way for ICE agents to make arrests in areas that were previously off-limits – schools, hospitals and courtrooms – while simultaneously increasing the scope of the agency’s raids. In April, agents swept into a meatpacking plant in East Tennessee, capturing 97 workers in one morning. More recently, in early June, in yet another of the “largest workplace raids in recent years,” 114 were arrested at an Ohio gardening business.
Arelis Figueroa, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and coordinator of the Latino ministry at Riverside Church, the Upper West Side chapel that hosted Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967, has seen first-hand in her community the fear ICE agents have inspired by showing up at immigration proceedings.
“People are afraid. They don’t want to go out. They don’t want to even go to the grocery store,” Figueroa says. “We knew 45 was full of hate, but we never knew it was going to come down to this.”