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‘I Knew I Had to Come Here’: Meet the Los Angeles Activists Camped Outside the ICE Processing Facility Downtown

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he flowers and posters have blocked a gated driveway at a federal building in downtown Los Angeles since Friday afternoon. A message scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk still reads: “JUSTICE FOR THE CHILDREN.”

For more than three days, demonstrators have staged this protest against the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Organizers call it a vigil for children and families held in federal custody, and the camp-out remains there while Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives in Los Angeles today, for a speech to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Tuesday morning began with arrests of another set of activists who gathered outside the U.S. courthouse on Spring Street. Go here to follow updates on that incident.

On Aliso and Alameda streets, the activists hope to block front the entrance to the Metropolitan Federal Detention Metropolitan Detention Facility, where immigrants picked up by federal immigration agents are brought to be processed, either for immediate deportation or arraignment in the federal courts.

Until ICE is gone.

“We’re advocating for the abolishment of the government agency,” said volunteer organizer Jacob Sheppard. “In the immediate sense, we’re protesting the family separation policy, but also just the detention and criminalization of immigrants and refugees across the board.”

Photos by Nathan Solis.
Photos by Nathan Solis.

Although the Trump administration said last week in an executive order that it would pivot from separating families and temporarily stop referring prosecution for adults arriving at the border with children, undocumented people are still being picked up and sent to this processing facility in the heart of downtown. Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents picked up 162 people across multiple counties during a three-day raid.

Occupy ICE LA intends to camp out front of the Metropolitan Federal Detention facility until the end of the month, when a national Day of Action is being called for immigrant families. In Los Angeles, the mass protest will take place in MacArthur Park on June 30.

Last year’s Day of Action coincided with the Trump administration’s repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. But to some of the protestors outside the detention facility on Alameda, the hope is stay camped on the site until ICE is gone.

[dropcap size=big]J[/dropcap]ustice Ross, 20, of North Hollywood, has so far spent two nights camped outside the federal building in a tent. The sound of traffic on the 101 Freeway roars in the background as Ross explained that she should have been here sooner.

“What sparked me to come out here was the family separation, the camps where children are being placed, the psychological damage they’re experiencing,” Ross said. “It’s like when everything hits a crisis point and you wake up to everything. That’s when I knew I had to come here.”

Timothy Hayes a volunteer organizer with Ground Game Los Angeles says the plan is for the vigil to be visible, a constant reminder of ICE’s policies against undocumented immigrants, on full display to the public.

The vigil sits on an odd bureaucratic quagmire. The sidewalk is in the city of Los Angeles, but just a few feet over is federal property. Organizers say private security guards have told them to keep their tents and other belongings away. An email to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking comment on raids and processing in Los Angeles was not immediately replied.

Meanwhile, nearby the flower barrier between city and federal property, Poleana Ruiz from Utah is with her family, standing in the shade of the detention facility. They are looking for her 34-year-old brother, Eric Hernandez, who is schizophrenic and has been missing for at least three weeks.

“He doesn’t carry ID. He’s a California resident, but he’s gone missing before and he’s off his medication,” said Ruiz.

El tiene Parkinson,” said Ruiz’s father.

Her brother is afraid of law enforcement and he’s not someone who would call his family if he was arrested. He missed a court appearance and needs medical care. The family have been to the police station, the homeless missions and someone recommended they go to the detention facility.

“We don’t know if he was picked up by police or the federal agents,” said Ruiz. “He needs help. That’s all we want. Sometimes you have police who see a Latino who speaks Spanish and they could think he’s here without papers. We don’t know.”

Someone in the family carried a flyer with a photocopied image of Hernandez and presented it to a person at a door, who accepted it.

RELATED: ‘We Need to Get Our Side Out’ ~ How Culture Clash Is Striking Back at Anti-Immigrant Hate

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