Protest continues near ICE's Portland headquarters
Demonstrators at the ongoing "Occupy ICE" protest outside the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Portland may have been pushed out of the area in front of the building's entrance, but they didn't go far: The protesters have set up camp on a nearby section of railroad track used by the Willamette Shore Trolley.
The track is part of an old rail corridor that runs from Lake Oswego to Portland; the final 400-foot stretch at the north end of the line passes between the ICE headquarters and an adjacent building and ends at the intersection of Moody Avenue and Bancroft Street — right at the spot where protesters have gathered since June 19.
TriMet is responsible for resolving trespassing issues on the corridor, and a spokesperson told The Review on Friday that the agency has asked the protesters to clear the track.
"TriMet has made a personal appeal to the organizers of the protest to please vacate the trackway, as their protest is not about the trolley, rather about the operations of the facility next to it," TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt said. "Thus far, the trackway continues to be blocked."
The protest began with a vigil outside the ICE office in response to Trump administration immigration policies, including separating children from their parents when undocumented immigrant families cross the southern U.S. border.
Demonstrators initially focused on blocking the entrance to the ICE building on Bancroft Street, but their numbers continued to grow over the course of the week as dozens of additional protesters arrived and began pitching tents and distributing supplies.
The crowd spread around most of the ICE building's perimeter, including the trolley track and an adjacent bike path on the east side. The track corridor between the two buildings was blocked off at each end by makeshift barricades draped in tarps, creating a relatively enclosed space that has functioned as a makeshift hub for the protest.
A third barrier was constructed at the entrance to a driveway off of Macadam Avenue on the south side of the ICE building, although that driveway doesn't connect to the ICE building and instead serves a nearby Tesla dealership.
Written notices were posted outside the ICE headquarters on June 25, warning demonstrators to leave the property. Federal law enforcement agents in riot gear arrived in the early morning hours of June 28 and swept the area in front of the building's entrance on Bancroft, taking eight demonstrators into custody in the process.
"Freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are sacred rights enjoyed by all Americans and the U.S. Attorney's office is committed to protecting these rights," said Billy J. Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Oregon district. "However, when individuals break the law by blocking employees and the public from accessing a federal facility, federal law enforcement will respond to restore normal business operations."
Federal officers only removed protesters from the front entrance of the ICE headquarters; the encampments on the trolley track and adjacent bike path were left in place. Williams' office said federal law does not restrict demonstrators from gathering on adjacent non-federal property.
In addition to the encampment, a single block of Bancroft Street between Moody Avenue and Macadam Avenue was closed off at both ends by police until Friday afternoon to give ICE vehicles a clear path into and out of the building entrance from Macadam. That stretch of roadway is now open after protesters agreed to move to the sidewalk.
Willamette Shore Trolley manager David Harold told The Review that the trolleys began making shorter trips when it became clear that they wouldn't be able to reach the station at the line's north end, and the situation has left the volunteer operators without a clear idea of when they might be able to resume normal service.
According to signage posted along the track, the trolleys are currently stopping at a driveway crossing about two blocks south of the regular station.
"(The protest) is all pushed onto our line still, so we're not happy about it," Harold told The Review last week. "I understand they have a protest and I don't have any problem with a protest, but not on our private property. The (bike) path is public, but our station is not."
Protesters are using the trolley station's roof as an attachment point for tarps, and one of the station's A-frame signs was incorporated into the makeshift barrier at the north end of the line. Harold said he's concerned about potential damage to the station and track, and worries that the nonprofit trolley line could also be financially harmed if the protesters are allowed to remain on the tracks indefinitely.
A large portion of the line's revenue comes from chartered trips that take groups to the Bancroft station to visit the nearby Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant, he said, and he doesn't want to ask riders to walk the extra distance or to go through the protest area.
"We have a schedule; we've been taking money for charters," he said. "If this doesn't end, I'm going to have to cancel and give their money back. It's going to wreck our nonprofit revenue stream that we use to maintain the trolley."
Harold said he's called several agencies and asked to have the track cleared, but was unable to get a commitment from any of them to do so.
"I've called Lake Oswego, Portland Police, TriMet, ODOT and the mayor's office," he said. "Nobody's doing anything, so we're kind of at an impasse. It's a political hot potato; they don't want to look bad by irritating the protesters more than they already have."
Dozens of tents now line the corridor on either side of the track and on the far side of the bike path, although the path itself has been kept clear in order to allow foot traffic to pass through the site. Plywood boards have also been placed over part of the track at the north end in order to increase the available surface area.
With most of the direct protest taking place on the outside of the camp barrier, the atmosphere within the camp area itself has been fairly relaxed. During a walk through the camp last Thursday night, a woman could be seen reading to a group of children in one of the camp tents, even as protesters continued a standoff with police on Bancroft Street.
Aside from some occasional shouting and chanting, the situation has remained mostly calm and relatively quiet after the initial confrontation. As of Tuesday, the track and bike path area remained occupied and barricaded, but the path itself was clear and the protest remained peaceful. The makeshift barrier at the entrance to the Tesla driveway was still in place, although the dealership's parking lot appeared to be accessible via a second driveway located farther south.
No local agencies have indicated that they have any immediate plans to try to disband the rest of the protest area. The bike path is considered part of the Moody Avenue public right-of-way, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has previously stated that he does not want to involve Portland police in trying to confront the protesters.
The ownership status of the trolley track is a bit more complex. The track and its right-of-way corridor were abandoned by Union Pacific in the 1980s, but a consortium of local government agencies, including Lake Oswego, Portland and TriMet, collectively purchased the corridor in order to preserve it for possible future mass transit use.
The consortium agreement puts Lake Oswego in charge of all basic maintenance of the track and corridor, and authorizes the City to use it to operate a trolley. Lake Oswego has a separate agreement with the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society to run the Willamette Shore Trolley and maintain the line.
However, the agreement states that TriMet will act as the official property title holder for the corridor on behalf of the rest of the consortium. TriMet will be "the single point of contact" for issues related to encroachment on the corridor, according to the agreement, and will be expected to work with third parties to resolve those issues.
"Obviously the consortium agreements don't address anything like this kind of event," Lake Oswego City Attorney David Powell told The Review. "It's kind of a cumbersome thing to call a meeting of the consortium, so I'd expect TriMet would just be keeping in mind that whatever they do is for the benefit of the rest of the consortium."
Lake Oswego Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan told The Review on Friday that the City will leave the issue to TriMet and defer to the agency's judgement about how to respond.
In addition to asking the protesters to clear the track, TriMet said it has also been reaching out to its consortium partners and the trolley operators.
"We will work with the trolley and the consortium partners to pursue solutions to end the disruption of the trolley service," Altstadt told The Review on Friday. "Until that time, we will continue to monitor the situation and we ask those blocking the tracks to please allow the trolley through to the terminus at Southwest Bancroft Street."