The horrors of family separation of asylum seekers at the border have been on everyone’s minds over the past couple weeks, as the completely intentional effects of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border became common knowledge. The 500 or more people who turned out on short notice in the blazing heat last Saturday at the Capitol were testament to how much the realization of what our country is doing had punched people in the gut.
Friday morning I joined the group of concerned Capital Region residents protesting outside of the ICE building on Route 7 in Latham. Our goal was to point out that families are separated by ICE right here in the Capital Region every day.
Though the protest intentionally did not plan to block the doors of the building, not wanting to cause problems for the immigrants required to show up there, the office decided to shut down. Snowflakes that they are, they wanted to claim they couldn’t operate safely under the pressure of a peaceful picket outside. (Not that the other protests at this building over the past year have caused any safety problems.)
The notice ICE gave to people who had rearranged their lives to travel there for their appointments was merely a sign on the door saying it was closed and appointments would be rescheduled. In 2018, with the power of technology at their fingertips and plenty of notice, they just let people travel in to be turned away. (They claimed people were notified, but protest participants say people showed up for their appointments every half hour all day long, so I find that a suspect claim.)
This is, as organizer Joe Paparone told WTEN, another example of how little regard ICE has for the lives of the people it exercises power over. Petty cruelty and a disregard for the lives, employment, and families of our immigrant neighbors is the hallmark of their behavior at this time.
But it also was a strategic move. They probably hoped that the ire of those immigrants, especially those lucky ones who had a hope of a good outcome rather than fearing they might be leaving the building in shackles, would turn against the protestors who came out in support of them, sowing uncertainty in the ranks.
That didn’t really happen, as far as I could see, since the immigrants themselves have a pretty good sense of who is on their side. But ICE had a more plausible strategy as well— they wanted to turn public opinion against the protestors, as is clear by their telling the media that it was too bad people missed their appointments because of people standing around their driveway with signs. <Insert fake sad look here.> I guess they were hoping to capitalize on this whole strain of liberal pearl clutching that says, “Of course I hate ripping families apart, but not enough to think you should disrupt anything to fix it.” ICE is following the administration’s broader lead, hoping it’ll easy to peel off what is currently widespread sympathy for the people they are targeting by tarring their strongest supporters with the accusation of being disruptive, uncivil, or “going about things the wrong way.” (That was a direct quote from someone who objected to the Friday action. Not long after someone else told us to “go back where you came from.”)
Please don’t fall into that trap. Don’t let the people perpetrating these horrors and setting the stage for worse distract you from what they are doing with appeals to your sense of discomfort when others stand up to authority. There is no way out of this at this point without discomfort, disruption, and sacrifice.
Finally, I do wonder if ICE actually was a little bit afraid of the action. Not that the people protesting would actually do any harm directly, but afraid of our message. With the example of Nazi Germany not too far from everyone’s minds these days, they might well worry about whether eventually some of their employees might do a little soul searching if they were confronted with the reality of what they are participating in. Having seen the history we’ve all seen, with people still living to talk about it, we have no excuses to not know that “just following orders” and “just doing my job” are not enough reason to participate in an unethical system. I don’t expect it to be many, because unfortunately, jobs that give you power over people tend to attract people who want power over those people. But I’m sure there are some people working for ICE right now who didn’t sign up for this, and I’m hoping as more and more stories come out about its lawlessness and cruelty that those people will in fact, walk away. Let’s cheer them on if they do