To a backtrack of rock 'n' roll — and with a towering robot in tow — activists reignited their attempts to disrupt a federal immigration facility in Southwest Portland.
Though the facility is closed on weekends, about 100 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, 4310 S.W. Macadam Ave., at 2 p.m. for a rally arranged by a local group calling itself The ICE Breakers on Saturday, Jan. 26.
Attendees were encouraged to dress up as superheros for what was billed as a family-friendly day of resistance. But organizer Francisco Aguirre reminded the crowd that a double identity is a survival strategy, not a fashion statement, for millions of undocumented workers toiling across America.
"When you put on a mask, you do it for all who have no choice," Aguirre said. "We are a nation of immigrants, and we will defeat ICE, without violence."
Aguirre also spoke of his own experiences with immigration police. The well-known Portland activist was nearly deported in 2014, but famously sought sanctuary in Augustana Lutheran Church for 81 days until the U.S. Department of Justice dropped charges for allegedly unlawfully re-entering the country.
Aguirre says he is required to visit the Southwest Portland facility every few months, and blames ICE for the death of his 16-year-old son, Moises, who was killed in El Salvador in 2016 after his own bad experiences with the child asylum system.
"ICE is still threatening to deport me," Aguirre said in an interview. "They kidnap and disappear our children."
According to an organizer using his first initial, J., the figure-eight masks and caped crusader get-ups had another upside: a second spin in the media's short-lived attention span.
While the rag-tag protest camp outside the ICE facility was cleared due to sanitation concerns almost exactly six months ago on July 25, J. said it felt more like five years and at least "1,000 news cycles ago." Indeed, the Occupy ICE camp sprouted dozens of tents, spurred numerous arrests and garnered national headlines for briefly stopping ICE's operations, but ultimately failed to uproot the immigration administration center from its spot inside the Rose City.
U.S. immigration policy "wasn't great under Obama," J. said, "but we weren't using child theft to scare people away."
A locked gate was the only visible sign of opposition to the undaunted demonstrators, who wheeled an imposing wooden robot nicknamed Buster the ICE Crusher into the building's courtyard and posed for photos before assembling along the nearby multi-use path and trolley tracks for a series of musical performances and speeches.
Portland police squad cars cruised past on several occasions, but officers did not appear to interfere with the vigil. Mirrored windows left it unclear whether the ICE facility itself was occupied.
Though tense at times, there was less confrontation than would be expected given that the leader of the combative conservative Patriot Prayer group, Joey Gibson, observed portions of the rally with several of his followers, often from across the street.
"They can protest ICE all they want. Today, too many people either worship or hate, and I'm neither," Gibson said. "The actual officers, I don't have any issue with them at all. ICE is another federal institution, and all federal institutions are flawed, extremely."
Nathalie Paravicini, a state co-chair of the Pacific Green Party, had her own viewpoint: "The policies over immigration don't benefit the country, they just put a huge population at risk."
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