‘Occupy Ice’: activists blockade Portland building over family separations

Protesters in Portland, Oregon, pitch tents outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) office.

An occupation of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) building in Portland attracted more protesters on Wednesday, growing from a rally in response to the Trump administration policy of separating parents from children at the southern border.

By Wednesday morning, there were reportedly 27 tents pitched around the office building. For the most part, the occupation – promoted on social media with the hashtag #occupyICEPDX – that began on Sunday has been peaceful. Tuesday evening, though, was marked by moments of tension.

Around 6.45pm, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) vehicles blocked a facing street and moved in on the building’s western entrance. About a dozen DHS officers emerged, armed and dressed in riot gear.

Officers parted protesters and entered the building. They re-emerged with more than 20 Ice staff members who had been stuck inside. Officers escorted the staff past protesters on the sidewalk and drove north as a convoy.

Quick guide

Why are families being separated at US border?

Why are children being separated from their families?

In April 2018, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced a “zero tolerance” policy under which anyone who crossed the border without legal status would be prosecuted by the justice department. This includes some, but not all, asylum seekers. Because children can’t be held in adult detention facilities, they are being separated from their parents.

Immigrant advocacy groups, however, say hundreds of families have been separated since at least July 2017.

More than 200 child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Nations, said they opposed the practice.

What happens to the children?

They are supposed to enter the system for processing “unaccompanied alien children”, which exists primarily to serve children who voluntarily arrive at the border on their own. Unaccompanied alien children are placed in health department custody within 72 hours of being apprehended by border agents. They then wait in shelters for weeks or months at a time as the government searches for parents, relatives or family friends to place them with in the US.

This already overstretched system has been thrown into chaos by the new influx of children.

Can these children be reunited with their parents?

Immigration advocacy groups and attorneys have warned that there is not a clear system in place to reunite families. In one case, attorneys in Texas said they had been given a phone number to help parents locate their children, but it ended up being the number for an immigration enforcement tip line.

Advocates for children have said they do not know how to find parents, who are more likely to have important information about why the family is fleeing its home country. And if, for instance, a parent is deported, there is no clear way for them to ensure their child is deported with them.

What happened to families before?

When an influx of families and unaccompanied children fleeing Central America arrived at the border in 2014, Barack Obama’s administration detained families.

This was harshly criticized and a federal court in 2015 stopped the government from…

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