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Police clash with protesters outside Philly ICE office, arresting 29

The protest comes amid a growing call from those on the left to eliminate ICE, the federal office charged with finding, arresting, and deporting people who are in the country without permission. "Sometimes you have to use your bodies to stop injustice from happening," one demonstrator said.

Establishing a small encampment for what could be a prolonged occupation, protesters have gathered outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Center City to demand an end to the federal agency.
Establishing a small encampment for what could be a prolonged occupation, protesters have gathered outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Center City to demand an end to the federal agency.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer .

Philadelphia police clashed with about 75 demonstrators who massed outside the Center City office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday to demand that the federal agency be abolished.

Twenty-nine people were arrested, all of them released after being issued citations for "failure to disperse." Two people sustained minor scrapes and bruises. One was taken to a local hospital and the other refused treatment, police said.

At least one officer landed hard on his back during a fracas.

The sides collided as police moved east on Cherry Street toward the Eighth Street area where immigration advocates had gathered on tarps and under beach umbrellas outside the agency, which is charged with finding, arresting, and deporting people in the country without permission. Some protesters had been there since Monday night, sleeping out on the sidewalk.

>> READ MORE: What is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency now under fire

With police horses and vehicles at their rear, a line of bicycle officers advanced slowly, a few feet at a time, forcing the protesters back.

"You have no [obscenity] shame," one woman shouted at the line of officers. "You said if we took the tents down you wouldn't arrest nobody. But you still arrested people. … You have no shame. You have no worth."

Police officers stared back impassively and silently. Everyone was sweating as the day grew hot, with temperatures rising into the 90s and the Philadelphia area under an excessive-heat warning.

The protest came amid a growing national call from immigration advocates to abolish ICE, which some say has become a deportation force that targets black and brown people.

In Philadelphia, people began gathering outside the ICE office Monday evening, their belongings stretching nearly half way down the block on Cherry Street. On Tuesday, within 90 minutes or so, Philadelphia police had reclaimed all but the last two dozen yards of Cherry — where demonstrators regrouped, setting up chairs, blankets, and umbrellas.

Some went to look for those who had been arrested. Others called friends, urging them to come quickly to Cherry Street.

The police surge cleared the way for access to a secure entrance to the building. The front door of ICE remained blocked by chairs and a banner that said, "ICE is rounding up people in a sanctuary city." Another banner, hung on a garage entrance, said, "Abolish ICE, the police and the Pentagon."

Philadelphia is what's known as a "sanctuary city," meaning it limits its cooperation with ICE. Why, given that stance, would the Kenney administration allow police to clear the protesters, demonstrators asked.

"'Clear' would imply that the demonstrators have been dispersed, which is absolutely not the case," said mayoral spokesperson Mike Dunn. "We have not cleared demonstrators. They are still there now. We support their right to protest. PPD simply moved the protesters away from the egress in order to facilitate access to the building and ensure public safety."

Dunn said the mayor agrees with the protesters — that the administration doesn't like "ICE's aggressive tactics, their separation of families, their targeting of law-abiding immigrants. But just because we agree with the protesters, it doesn't mean they can break the law and block access to a building."

The protesters promised to stay indefinitely — or at least as long as they can.

An ICE spokesperson declined to comment on the demonstrators and police. ICE operations were proceeding normally, he said.

"Sometimes you have to use your bodies to stop injustice from happening," said Amy Gottsegen, 22, a Drexel University student from Kennett Square, who stood among the demonstrators.

Gottsegen was one of those who had spent the night outside, sleeping on the sidewalk in an effort to disrupt ICE operations.

Tents had been removed at the request of Philadelphia police, demonstrators said, but in every other way the area looked like an encampment. Bottled water was everywhere, and pizza boxes were being carted away.

The protest was organized by groups including Philly Socialists, Socialist Alternative, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Democratic Socialists of America. Co-sponsors include Reclaim Philadelphia, Liberation Project, Montgomery County Socialists, Green Party, International Marxist Tendency, and POWER, according to a news release sent to media organizations.

Mara Henao, 29, a leader of Philly Socialists, said the City of Philadelphia should be ashamed. As a sanctuary city, it should be helping immigrants, not making it easier for ICE to jail them, she said.

By mid-afternoon, a group of only about 20 demonstrators remained on the east side of Cherry, occasionally shouting through bullhorns but mostly talking about the police push that largely ended the encampment.

Joe Cox, 34, of South Philadelphia, said he judged the protest "not successful, because ICE isn't shut down. But we made a pretty good stink."

The protesters said they seek to support undocumented immigrants and their families, calling for not only an end to family separation but also to deportation and detention. They laid out three specific demands — local, state and national:

  1. Philadelphia authorities must stop sharing arrest and court information with ICE, which now takes place through a database known as PARS.

  2. Closure of the Berks County family detention center, which holds parents and children who are awaiting immigration decisions or asylum hearings. Critics have long demanded the end of what they call "a baby jail."

  3. The abolition of ICE.

In the late afternoon Tuesday, demonstrators were briefly interrupted by four  counter-protesters who allegedly belonged to the Key of David church, known for harassing Muslims and gay people.

The group shouted at the protesters, calling them "anti-American pigs" and traitors to the white race. They left shortly after a brief altercation with two demonstrators.

"We're trying to abolish ICE," said Jacob Hammes, 35, who returned to the protest after being arrested and released on Tuesday. "We don't need it."

ICE was created from the Homeland Security Act of 2002, enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In recent days, the demand to abolish ICE has emerged more forcefully into the tense national conversation around immigration. The hashtag #AbolishICE has taken off on Twitter.

A number of Democratic lawmakers have spoken out, including Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. senator from New York, who tweeted that the agency has "become a deportation force."

"We need to separate immigration issues from criminal justice. We need to abolish ICE, start over and build something that actually works," she wrote.

President Trump has attacked that position as soft, and repeatedly backed the agency as crucial to public safety.

"Many Democrats are deeply concerned about the fact that their 'leadership' wants to denounce and abandon the great men and women of ICE, thereby declaring war on Law & Order," he tweeted Monday. "These people will be voting for Republicans in November and, in many cases, joining the Republican Party!"

Large demonstrations took place in cities around the nation over the weekend — including 3,000 who gathered at Logan Square in Philadelphia on Saturday — to demand an end to Trump's immigration policies.

The president issued an executive order to stop the separation of migrant parents and their children at the border as his administration promised to begin jailing more families together.

On Tuesday, sweating through his shirt, Marlon MacAllister, 31, of Philadelphia, was among the people waving signs at passing cars, often eliciting honks of support.

"The people united around a common goal can have an impact," he said. "We have so many people on our side. … Our spirits are high."