Busted at ICE and then put “on ice”


by Steve Clemens May 6, 2009 • The five of us blocking the west entrance/exit from the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) office in Bloomington, MN were chanting with our arms linked together. “2-4-6-8, Stop the raids, Stop the hate! 3-5-7-9, Destroying families is a crime!”

Mennonista is the blog of Steve Clemens, a Twin Cities peace and justice activist who writes about his convictions that often lead to arrest and [occasional] convictions.

We were one of four teams of activists who planned an action of civil disobedience unless President Obama announced an end to the ICE immigration raids and subsequent deportations that have increasingly taken place over the past several years despite the obvious brokenness of the present immigration system and policies.

Steve Clemens is second from right in the photo.

There were two reasons for selecting Wednesday May 6th. It closely follows the 100th day of the Obama administration and it coincides with the normal deportation schedule from this ICE office. On many Wednesday mornings, undocumented people are driven from this building within eyesight of the Mall of America to the nearby MSP airport for deportation. Our goal was to try to physically block any deportations from happening that day as well as to put Obama on notice that a new policy must be forthcoming.

One of the reasons I chose to join the action was I had noticed the obvious lack of “gray hairs” in the planning and training sessions. I felt some of my 40+ years of experience with direct action and public protest might be helpful among a group that appeared primarily in their 20s and 30s. But I was pleasantly surprised at the discipline and commitment I saw evidenced by my fellow activists. The level of energy and enthusiasm was inspiring and I was proud to be included in their midst. They did the “heavy lifting” (the planning and coordination of the action) and I was happy to join these “young people” whom I’ve too often dismissed in the past.

Most of the teams had 7-8 members and after inter-locking arms they stretched a clothesline on which hung children’s clothing to symbolize the age of some of the victims of this policy which has routinely separated a parent from their children under the guise of “enforcing the law”. As a push-back of my own, I carried with me a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which many nations around the world adopted at the UN 61 years ago. Its language reminds we signatory nations of the basic rights of all people – no matter their nationality, race, or status.

After we were informed we were under arrest for “unlawful assembly” and would be charged with trespass, we were handcuffed and carried to an awaiting bus for transport to the Bloomington jail. That’s when we were “put on ice”. I was in custody for seven hours before being released with my citation and order to report to criminal court in mid-June. Although more than 2/3s of the 30 arrestees were released before me, 5 or 6 still languished in the holding or solitary cells after more than 8 hours had past and I had to leave. Fortunately, a spirited group of “jail solidarity” folk remained behind to greet and thank the rest when they walked out.

What we were told was holding up the process was the claim by the police that we had to give our Social Security numbers as part of the booking process – this despite that many of the others who had already been processed and released had failed to disclose such! The Bloomington Police involved in the booking process had become a law unto themselves, deciding what to require before writing the citation for the misdemeanor charge which many other police departments like Edina and Eden Prairie have learned to do right on the scene of the arrest. Most of my previous arrests for similar civil disobedience involve processing in as little as 15 minutes!

We wanted to focus our attention on the immigration policy rather than the police but I came to realize both come down to the same issue: is priority given to paper over people? ICE officials hide behind policy that says, “if only their documentation was in order”. The Bloomington police had the driver’s license/ID of all the arrestees but that wasn’t enough for them – they wanted fingerprints, photos, place of birth, and other info besides the mysterious demand for a Social Security number – all for a misdemeanor!

But lest it sound like the lengthy processing time was all drudgery, I should mention two things. Our inconvenience and discomfort are a small price to pay in comparison to the fear and anger caused by the dismantling of families our deportation policies engender. And our time in the holding cells allowed for a lot of bonding and camaraderie. We discovered we could hear some of what was said from the women’s holding cell if we listened carefully from the vents in the ceiling. So the men and women traded songs and chants back and forth. Not only were the women more creative than we men, but both groups managed to keep the focus predominately on the immigration issue rather than the growing awareness that we hadn’t been fed at all while in custody – well in excess of normal eating hours. But again, our jail solidarity friends came to the rescue once we were finally released, greeting us with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, oranges, and cold water. What a blessing!

While sitting in the jail, the thought came to mind: what if all law enforcement personnel treated civil disobedients with the same respect that they would treat Dr. Martin Luther King today if they had him in their cells instead of us. Who knows how history will judge those who today challenge the status quo in the same way he, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Thoreau, and others did in their time.

Today, it was “no business as usual” at the ICE office in Bloomington – at least for three hours this morning. Now we all have to continue to keep our elected officials accountable for addressing the grievous wrongs these policies have wrought. Much of this is the result of NAFTA and other global economic polices which allow capital but not people to freely cross the border. We must put people before profits as well as people before paperwork!

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