Locals arrested at ICE protest in Williston
WILLISTON — Hundreds of Vermonters protested against immigration detentions and conditions Sunday outside of the Department of Homeland Security’s Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston. The demonstration ended with a road block resulting in 20 arrests.
Five of those arrested had Addison County connections — three residents and two Middlebury College students.
Joanna Colwell of East Middlebury was one of those arrested and cited by police for disorderly conduct. Colwell is Jewish and her family immigrated from Eastern Europe, likely illegally, she said, because restrictions were in place. Her remaining relatives died in the Holocaust.
Colwell said she felt participating in an act of civil disobedience was the least she could do.
“I’ve just been waking up crying in the middle of the night just thinking about how these little children separated from their parents must feel,” she said.
“(The DHS building) is just evil in our beautiful little state and we can’t allow this.”
Other locals arrested were Brian T. “Joshin” Byrnes, 60, of Shoreham and Julie A. Conason, 61, of Salisbury. Also arrested were Alec H. Fleischer, 22, rising senior at Middlebury College, and Nicolas J. Plume, 21, who will gradate from Middlebury next February.
Demonstrators started gathering around 3 p.m. at Vermont Technical College and marched down to 188 Harvest Lane in Williston, a nondescript brick office building where Immigration and Customs Enforcement operates a tip line.
The march briefly slowed traffic as an estimated 750 people, according to organizers, waved signs calling for the reunification of migrant families, an end to immigration raids and deportations, and the closure of detention facilities that have been criticized for poor conditions.
Ashley Smith, one of the organizers of the event, said activists came together for an organizing meeting after a similar event on Church Street earlier in July. The group decided to plan another demonstration followed by civil disobedience.
Smith, a Burlington resident, said he was impressed with the turnout and support from various groups, which included churches, synagogues, unions and activist groups.
“I think it showed the breadth of people concerned about this issue,” he said. “And all of this is really the building blocks of a bigger movement.”
The Department of Homeland Security facility houses the Law Enforcement Support Center. It is in operation around-the-clock as a nationwide intelligence hub that shares information with police about suspects’ immigration status and criminal background.
Calls to ICE’s tip line from across the country and around the world, including reports of undocumented immigrants, are fielded at the Williston center, which employs around 400 people.
As the large crowd advanced down Harvest Lane, the DHS property was closed off with police tape to keep protesters away from the building. A few Homeland Security officers, initially with K-9 units, stood by the entrance watching the crowd, and drew the attention of a handful of protesters who began yelling and waving signs at them. Shortly afterward, the officers went back inside the center.
An ICE spokesperson said in a statement Monday morning that the agency “respects the right of individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights by voicing their opinions through peaceful and lawful protest.” He also said ICE is dedicated to ensuring employees’ safety, and emphasized their right to access their place of work.
“The dedicated men and women of ICE will not be intimidated or prevented from carrying out their work of protecting our communities and will continue to courageously fulfill the mission they have been sworn to uphold as law enforcement professionals,” the spokesperson said.
Three counter-protesters set up in front of the facility with signs in support of ICE and were confronted by some members of the march. Protesters with the anti-ICE march tried to obstruct reporters from photographing and filming the counter demonstration.
Demonstrators gathered on Harvest Lane to a drum beat and chants of “shut it down” and “get another job.” Organizers read an employment recruitment advertisement for the center that said the facility “supports and coordinates enforcement actions with ICE offices nationwide.”
A small wooden box was placed in the street outside the building, serving as a podium for a series of speakers from some of the 62 organizations and community groups that sponsored the event.
Tina Scanlon of Westford marched, carrying with her a sign that read, “ICE is not human, abolish ICE.”
“I think it’s really important to stand up for the nasty things going on in this country,” she said while waiting for the speeches to begin. “It’s totally uncalled for, it’s inhumane and I’m really disgusted by it.”
Beverly Little Thunder, a member of the Standing Rock Lakota Band of Native Americans in North Dakota, was the first speaker.
“That border was implemented and put there by people that were not from our community,” she said.
Partway through the roster of speakers, a storm cloud rolled in, drenching the crowd with sheets of rain. But most demonstrators did not disperse.
Rabbi Jan Salzman of Ruach haMaqom in Burlington led the crowd in a song: “We have come to free the children.”
The names and ages of children who have died in ICE custody, and those of migrant farm workers detained in Vermont, were read out and repeated by the crowd.
Giovanni Sanchez, of the activist group Raices Resistentes, said seeing the large crowd around gave him hope.
“We are all here together as one, demanding a just cause to close the concentration camps, and stop ICE,” Sanchez said.
Meanwhile, as demonstrators protested immigration enforcement in Williston, about 20 miles away, Border Patrol officers were stopping motorists at a checkpoint on a road leading to the Champlain Islands, according to social media posts. It’s the third immigration checkpoint federal agents have carried out in the same area since May.
A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection did not immediately return a request for comment about the checkpoint Sunday evening.
As the march’s final speakers concluded, a group of some 20 protesters in white shirts moved to sit and block the two entrances to the Law Enforcement Support Center’s parking lot. Around 20 vehicles were visible parked in the lot at the facility.
The protesters sang “we shall not be moved,” and ate a beet salad donated by a supporter as several Williston police cruisers arrived on the scene, followed by Vermont State Police and South Burlington Police.
At 6:30 p.m., DHS officials told the demonstrators they were trespassing if they remained on the property, and the two white shirt groups moved into the street to block traffic on Harvest Lane from the facility.
Ten minutes later, officers began removing the police tape around the building and began making arrests in the first blockade. All demonstrators walked away peacefully after being informed of their arrest. When arrests were made in the second blockade shortly after, one protester who was meditating, was handcuffed before being led away.
Harvest Lane reopened to through traffic at about 7 p.m.
Williston police arrested a total of 20 people and issued citations for disorderly conduct. The protesters are ordered to appear in Chittenden Superior Court on Aug. 13.
Scarlett Moore was one of the protesters arrested by police. She said preventing people from leaving the facility was symbolically important, because “there are thousands of people who are prevented from having the choice to go anywhere at all.”
“I consider disrupting ICE’s ability to surveil and physically, violently oppress immigrants and refugees is a success, and we’ve got to keep doing that until these camps are closed,” Moore said.
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