Sweeping Immigration Arrests Prompt Days of Protests in Austin

Up to 70 people have been detained by federal immigration officers in Austin in four days, according to a local organizer.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Austin this weekend as dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests rocked the immigrant community. Attendees at the spontaneous, high-energy demonstrations were primarily Latino.

“My mother is an immigrant; you think I want them to take my mom away?” said one young man at Saturday’s demonstration in front of a line of Austin police wearing riot gear. “No, I’m not having it. No more of them taking people away from their families. We’re showing them that we’re taking action.”

On Thursday and Friday, ICE detained 44 Mexican nationals in Austin, according to the Mexican consulate. Up to 70 people have been detained as of Sunday night, according to Alejandro Caceres, an immigration organizer with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit.

A protester addresses a line of Austin police officers in riot gear.  Gus Bova

ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said in a statement the actions were “routine, targeted arrests.” But Caceres, who helps operate an emergency hotline for immigrants, said ICE detained multiple people it encountered incidentally. And he said the scale of the operation is anything but normal.

“Never did I hear of this amount of people getting picked up during the Obama years,” Caceres said. “This is like returning to the Bush years in terms of numbers, but not as sloppy — not going out and doing work raids, but specific, targeted raids at a fast and alarming rate.”

Rumors of ICE actions first swirled early this month when Travis County enacted a new policy limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Many speculated ICE might target Austin for being a so-called sanctuary city.

The first confirmed reports rolled in Thursday, and activists held an emergency vigil downtown.

“I believe ICE is out in public arresting people in order to retaliate against our community for standing up for our values against people like [Governor Greg] Abbott and Trump,” wrote Austin City council member Greg Casar on Facebook.

On Friday, there were more reports of ICE activity, including video of an arrest in North Austin at the intersection of Lamar Boulevard and Rundberg Lane — a neighborhood with a large Latino population. That evening, a spontaneous demonstration drew up to 300 protesters to the site of the arrest.  The action reportedly began with a middle-aged, white man holding a sign that read “Chinga ICE.”

The protest, which resulted in no arrests Friday, dispersed around 3 a.m.

Hundreds of protesters voiced opposition to federal immigration arrests in Austin.  Jonathan McNamara

Saturday night, protesters converged again on the same North Austin intersection. According to an APD officer, at least 200 protesters took to the streets. They blocked traffic while chanting “El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido” and “Sí se puede.” Cars and pickups full of supporters stationed themselves at the perimeter of the protest, some blaring “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump),” a rap song that has been used widely by protesters in recent months.

APD officers donned riot gear as the protest grew, and a few protesters threw water bottles. At least two protesters were arrested. A person allegedly broke the back window of an APD cruiser and tossed in a firework, causing the interior of the car to catch fire.

Three teenage boys often led the crowd, holding Latin American flags strung together. One teenager held the Ecuadorian flag, but said he was not from the South American country.

“I’m from Honduras,” he said in English. “But we’re all in this together now.”

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected]

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Published at 2:12 pm CST
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