It was a cool summer morning last Thursday, as I headed downtown to check out the daily vigil in front of the Seattle office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more commonly known as ICE.
The vigil was held outside 1000 2nd Ave in the heart of downtown Seattle’s business district. It is an intense corridor of the city with older giant nameless buildings that hold regional federal government headquarters for agencies like the IRS. I see a small group of rather ordinary looking people standing and holding up signs. The faces look familiar, in a way that naturally blends into Seattle’s cityscape: commuters, parents, teachers, bartenders and professionals. These were the supposed rebels in the face of the controversial government agency that commands a budget of over 6 billion taxpayer dollars and was responsible for over 200,000 deportations during 2017.
The protestors acted in customary Pacific Northwest fashion, polite and rather quiet, but that made the bold statements on their signs read that much louder. ICE is notorious for surveilling people within our communities. There are many stories of people being arrested on their way to work, tracking people through social media, and even through local news stories. This serves to create fear among many undocumented folks and silence their stories. Many of the migrants who travel to live in this country are escaping hostile conditions and are in search of safety. Just about all of the people present were white or white presenting, and they were open about that intersection. The people did their best to show solidarity and spoke with an understanding of leveraging their position within society to help those who cannot be present.
Angelina Godoy is the organizer of the ICE Vigils and is direct about their message. “People being hauled away from their family for nothing other than having an unauthorized presence in the country,” says Godoy, “that criminalization of migration in general is a big problem. I’m also concerned about how many clearly false statements that ICE has made in the media and public that have proven to be false. I believe that it is an agency that we can’t trust. That is why I believe that it needs to be abolished… The agency needs to be done away with and start from scratch.”
“ICE began in 2003 after the 9/11 attacks with the idea that they’ll use immigration enforcement to keep us safer in this country.” Godoy pauses and then intensifies, “I think they still use that language, but I believe the day-to-day practices that we now know they’re engaging in don’t keep us safer, in fact they create more danger. Especially for immigrants and people of color, but for all Americans, there’s a danger when we have a secret police operating in our midst.”
Alix Perry starts off by talking about why supporting the ICE Vigils is important. “It’s something that is unpleasant. There’s lot of things that are unpleasant. You don’t want to think about ‘em and want to be not so sad every day. But you have to think about what’s happening, so you can think about changing it, because if you’re not thinking about it, you’re not going to remember to think about change.”
Perry said the protests are speaking to “white men and white people in general. When white people came here, my ancestors, they basically took all the land and we pretend like it’s ours to decide who come here when it’s really not ours in the first place. That’s why no one should be illegal on our terms based on that we stole the land in the first place. How is it our decision to make? It really doesn’t make sense for white people to choose who can’t come here, when the borders are made up.”
Elisabeth Smith, an immigration attorney, cut right to the chase. “The human rights abuses under this president need to stop. The situation they’re creating at the southern border is only an emergency because they are making it one. People are showing up at checkpoints asking for asylum and they are not even getting interviews…They’re not being talked to and that is creating the number of people who are going to other parts of the border and crossing illegally. The idea that you created an emergency and then you take people’s children away from them after they already survived violence that we can’t imagine…It’s disgusting and its contravening US law and international law and it has to stop. Everybody has the right, under international law since World War II, to show up at a border and ask for asylum…We’re asking people who have managed to overcome violence in these countries and traveled by foot through South and Central America to only experience more violence when they get here. When their children are ripped away from them.”
Correction: Alix Perry’s name was incorrectly spelled in an earlier version of this article.