Occupy Foley: Immigrant Advocates Camp Out at Downtown Park in Protest

The small group of immigration advocates have set up camp at Foley Square in opposition of ICE and the federal agency’s attack on undocumented immigrants. | Photo by Colin Mixon

BY COLIN MIXSON | A small band of diehard immigration advocates have maintained a 24/7 presence at Downtown’s Foley Square since June 27 as part of the Occupy ICE movement.

The activists are evicted from the park proper when it closes each night, but promptly set up camp on the sidewalk just outside, and then move back into the park in the morning. They claim to have faced some harassment in recent days from the NYPD, but say they’ll maintain a constant presence at the small downtown park as both a symbolic protest, and as a resource for immigrants coming from the nearby federal Citizenship and Immigration Services building.

“We’re here 24/7 for immigrants and undocumented folk,” said Makela Duran Crelin.

The Occupy ICE movement, which takes its name from the Occupy Wall Street protests that sprang up at Downtown’s Zuccotii Park in 2011, found its spark on the West Coast on June 17, when protestors in Portland, Oregon, formed an encampment outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office there in an effort to frustrate the federal agency’s efforts to deport local undocumented immigrants, according to a report in the Guardian.

The movement has since spread to numerous locations across the nation, including San Francisco, Atlanta, San Diego, Detroit, and Greenwich Village, where protestors managed to shut down the Varick St. Immigration Court for a day on June 25, in a bittersweet victory that is expected to delay the deportation of some immigrants, while also leaving them stranded in detention for several more weeks, according to a Gothamist report.

The Downtown advocates originally tried to set up their encampment directly outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Services building at 26 Federal Plaza, but agents with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gave the band of immigrant-rights crusaders the boot within minutes, according to Duran Crelin.

“When we got here, we originally tried to occupy the grounds of the federal building over there, but in 20 minutes a bunch of DHS guys came and were like, ‘you gotta f–king go,’ ” she said.

So the group headed across Lafayette St. to nearby Foley Square, where they’ve occupied a small patch of grass using tarps and lawn chairs, and offered immigrants coming from the nearby federal building food, along with referrals to pro-bono legal and medical services.

Initially, the police were content to allow the advocates to spend their evenings in the park, but recently have stepped up enforcement, and have begun evicting the demonstrators at midnight, forcing them onto nearby benches lining Lafayette St. until 6 a.m., when they’re allowed to return to the green space.

Occupiers hold up handmade signs in support of undocumented immigrants. | Photo by Colin Mixon

A small force of NYPD and Park Enforcement Patrol officers descended on the encampment on July 9 to confiscate the signs and flags the advocates had affixed to trees at the park, claiming the protestors were violating city ordinances, according to one occupier.

“They took it down without giving us time to take it down. They just left with our items,” said one advocate, who only gave his name as Luis, saying he feared for his safety.

The increased policing of Foley Square is due the growing number of occupiers now residing at the park, along with the fear that the movement could balloon to size of its namesake, which turned Zuccotti Park into a tent city for weeks, according to Duran Crelin.

“They don’t want a repeat,” she said. “They’re very scared of another occupation movement.”

But the nightly evictions have ironically steeled the resolve of the occupiers, according to Luis, who says spirits have never been higher at the small Downtown encampment.

“Morale is actually extremely high, especially after they kicked us out,” Luis said. “It sounds strange, but there’s definitely a camaraderie amongst us. It felt like a physical attack.”

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