They protested against ICE and now they are paying the price, activists say

Demonstrators block drivers at the intersection  of Southwest 29th Street and 145th Avenue during a protest in July outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Miramar. Protesters decried what they say is “inhumane treatment” of immigrant families and called on the U.S. to abolish ICE.
Demonstrators block drivers at the intersection of Southwest 29th Street and 145th Avenue during a protest in July outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Miramar. Protesters decried what they say is “inhumane treatment” of immigrant families and called on the U.S. to abolish ICE.

For years, immigration activists Bud Conlin and Tomas Kennedy have visited immigration detention centers such as the Krome Service Processing Center as part of the pro-immigrant organization Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees.

During the visits, Conlin, Kennedy and other volunteers speak with detainees to learn their stories. The organization also pays for cellphone recharges so that immigrants can talk to their relatives and legal representatives. But on Sept. 14, Conlin was not allowed to enter the Krome detention center.

The only explanation he received from one of the security guards was that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had banned entry to Conlin and Kennedy. In July, the activists and 15 others were arrested by Miramar police, after blocking a street near a ICE field office during a protest to denounce alleged ill treatment of immigrants who come to that facility.

On Thursday, the group held a press conference outside the same building, at Southwest 29th Street and 145th Avenue, to denounce what they consider retaliation by ICE for their participation in the protest. According to the activists, the federal agency is violating their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly, by prohibiting their entry into detention centers following the demonstration.

“We want ICE to stipulate that community members do not lose their rights to protected speech as a price to enter an immigration facility,” Conlin said Thursday.

Kennedy, for his part, argued that ICE is not justified in blocking his entry into the detention centers, as the arrest charges for the July protest were dismissed, and neither he nor Conlin have a criminal record.

“It is basically retaliation. What they are saying is: ‘Ah, you are going to mess with us, then we are not going to let you visit and help the people in immigration jail,’ “ complained Kennedy.

Nestor Yglesias, ICE spokesman in Miami, said in a written statement that the agency can deny access to anyone to their facilities, if they determine that the presence of that person can alter the order. Yglesias referred to a 2011 document, called Performance Based National Detention Standards, that dictates the rules for visiting ICE detention centers.

According to those standards, “Detainees in ICE custody can maintain morale and ties through visitation with their families, the community, legal representatives and consular officials, within the constraints of the safety, security and good order of the facility. If the facility administrator believes that the safety, security or good order of a detention facility may be compromised, ICE can deny an individual access to a facility.”

But the activists argue that the protest was not held in a detention center, and ICE has never had complaints about their visits to the detainees.

The activists held the protest in July to denounce what they called “inhumane treatment” of the hundreds of immigrants who have to go to the immigration offices in Miramar every day. They claimed the immigrants often had to wait in long lines for hours in hot sun without access to restrooms or drinking water. Immigrants, many of them undocumented, with pending cases of immigration, such as asylum petitions, report to that office regularly to meet with “deportation agents.”

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Protesters block the intersection at Southwest 145th Avenue and 29th Street in Miramar outside the ICE building. C.M. GUERRERO

Previously, such check-ins were usually made annually. But with immigration policy changes under President Donald Trump, immigrants are now required to present themselves more frequently, some even on a monthly basis. People come to the offices from nearby cities in Broward and Miami-Dade, as well as from farther places like Homestead, Naples and Fort Myers.

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For those who do not have cars or a driver’s license, the trip can mean losing a day of work and paying up to hundreds of dollars for round-trip transportation.

“They are punishing us for bringing to light how people have been treated here, that they had to wait in the inclement sun, without access to toilets or water, and their cars being towed because there is not enough parking,” Kennedy told reporters on Thursday.

In July, after a series of complaints from activists, elected officials and residents of the city of Miramar, Yglesias, the ICE spokesman, told the Sun Sentinel that the agency was working to improve conditions at the facilities. Yglesias said signs had been posted to indicate to people waiting in line outside the building that there were toilets available inside. He also said that they were exploring the possibility of placing water fountains outside the building and that, although visitor parking is not ICE’s responsibility, they would try to add more spaces.

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Activists from United We Dream and Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees conduct a so-called “circle of protection” once a week on Southwest 29th Street, near the building, where they offer water, coffee, snacks and information to immigrants who come to the ICE office.

On Thursday, a woman who did not want to give her name said she paid $150 to a “raitero” (driver) to take her to the offices from Pompano Beach, a Broward city about 30 miles to the north. However, after waiting in line, the woman was asked to leave the office and return on another date, because her 2-year-old son would not stop crying.

The activists offered water, sweets and a chair to the woman and the baby while they waited in the shade for the driver to return to take them home.

Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar and on Facebook: @BrendaMedinaJournalist.