More than 20 immigrant advocates and St. Louis clergy occupied the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in downtown St. Louis Thursday afternoon. With a banner stating “U.S. Funded Kidnapping” and “#AbolishICE,” they held a sit-in at the office, located at Spruce Street and Tucker Boulevard.
“We want to send a message that we do not welcome ICE in St. Louis,” said Amanda Tello, a community organizer for Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA), in an interview with St. Louis American prior to the action. “Most of our actions have not been targeted at ICE, and so it was time to let them know that we see them and that we don’t want them here.”
Tello said ICE has been breaking up families in St. Louis using enforcement practices that “seek to profit from the imprisonment of our families, friends and neighbors.”
“People are being kidnapped,” Tello said. “People are disappearing. It’s all on ICE and how they are working with police and with local politicians.”
At the same time as the sit-in, a rally and march was being held in front of the Eagleton Courthouse on South 10th Street.
A press release announcing the march stated that the action was supported by area organizations including MIRA, Cosecha MO, Artivists STL, the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America, and Latinos en Axion STL, along with faith leaders and advocates.
Vivian Garcia, a 19-year-old college DACA student, said she hasn’t been participating in many demonstrations.
“I thought things were just going to calm down, but they’ve gotten worse,” Garcia told the American. “We’re not even talking about being undocumented. This is literally humanity being caged. This is literally children ripped away from their parents. Although we are in the Midwest, we have a part as humans to help this situation.”
About 2,600 immigrant and refugee children have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, as part of the president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that he rolled out in April. Some of those children have been sent to St. Louis. Lawsuits have alleged neglect and abuse of these children in detention.
The current administration must meet a July 26 court-ordered deadline to reunify children with their parents, but progress has been extremely slow.
On July 17, Democratic senators unveiled the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) bill, which aims to speed up the family reunification process and calls for the establishment of a permanent system to ensure the protection of detained immigrants with children.
Tello said the best way St. Louisans can get involved is to call their senators.
“[U.S. senators] say they can’t do anything, but it’s because they don’t think they have the support from the community,” Tello said.
Garcia hopes that the action inspires more St. Louisans to come out and show their dissent of the way immigrants and refugees are being treated. More than half of the people who occupied the building were white.
Garcia said, “And I hope that my community realizes that we do have allies.”