More than 100 people gathered outside the Spokane Intermodal Center on Wednesday afternoon to protest the arrests of undocumented immigrants at the downtown transportation hub, and to call on local leaders to limit cooperation with the U.S. Border Patrol and other immigration agencies.
The rally was organized by the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network and by Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. Participants decried the rising number of arrests of immigrants in the region and nationwide, including many who have committed no crimes beyond crossing the border illegally.
“I have had friends – people that I’ve known for a long time – that have been arrested with no criminal record. The only crime they committed was just working without documents,” said Lili Navarrete, whose family immigrated from Mexico when she was a child and later applied for citizenship. “It took us 12 years, and we were lucky,” she said.
Navarrete has lived in Spokane for 30 years and leads a Planned Parenthood program called Raíz (Spanish for “root”) that helps connect Latinx communities with health services. She said she supports the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
“More than a quarter of our patients are Latinx, so this is really something that hits home for us,” said Paul Dillon, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood. “I think the county and the city really need to reevaluate their priorities and their relationships with ICE and Border Patrol.”
Since the start of fiscal 2013, Border Patrol agents have apprehended some 200 people at the city-owned Intermodal Center, which houses the Spokane Police Department’s downtown precinct. Parts of the building are rented to Amtrak, Greyhound and other bus carriers. Agents are known to board idling buses and ask passengers for identification, arresting those who are undocumented.
While the Intermodal Center is within 100 miles of the U.S. border, a zone where the Border Patrol says it can conduct warrantless searches, City Councilman Breean Beggs, who attended Wednesday’s demonstration along with Councilwoman Kate Burke, said it’s not clear that the arrests at the bus depot are appropriate. Beggs, who is also a lawyer, said council members are working on an ordinance that would prohibit immigration authorities from questioning and arresting people in public parts of the Intermodal Center without warrants.
“Generally, most of us think that law enforcement should only be in the private areas if there’s either an emergency or they have a warrant, and the Border Patrol has been going into the private areas without permission from the city,” Beggs said. “Unclear whether they’re getting permission from the bus companies.”
Greyhound has said it has no control over the matter and that it does not “support or coordinate” Border Patrol searches on its buses. Beggs said the city ordinance would offer clear guidance to the bus carriers and offer a potential legal defense for those who are arrested at the Intermodal Center.
Navarrete said, “A lot of undocumented people don’t know that they have rights. They have the right to remain silent and not respond to any questions.”
Many demonstrators also called for Spokane County to terminate its contract with ICE that allows the agency to house arrestees at the county jail. The facility, along with the county jail in Yakima, is a stopping point for immigrants who are arrested in Spokane and transported to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Although the Intermodal Center is publicly owned and portions of it are not reserved for private tenants, Spokane police Officer Chris Conrath, one of several officers who monitored Wednesday’s demonstration, confirmed police had prohibited the demonstration from taking place inside. He did not offer a reason.
Meanwhile, Roger Hammers mounted a one-man counterdemonstration across the intersection of Sprague Avenue and Bernard Street, holding a sign that read, “Honk 4 Strong Borders.” A few passing drivers did honk, though a few rolled down their windows to cheer on the other demonstrators.
“I think ICE gives us great services … and they do a great job,” Hammers said. “Free, open borders, it only breeds criminals, crime, and I don’t think it’s good. I came out here to present an opposing point of view.”
He said Border Patrol agents should have just as much access to the Intermodal Center as local police, and also weighed in on the Trump administration’s discontinued policy of separating children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I think if they don’t want their kids separated from them, they should stay on their side of the border or come across legally,” Hammers said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying they don’t have it hard over there, and I’m not saying that the system doesn’t need to be streamlined. But breaking the law is not the answer.”
Navarrete said she and other demonstrators had received many critical and racist comments in the lead-up to Wednesday’s rally.
“No human being is illegal,” she said, adding that most immigrants come to the United States to work and pursue better, safer lives.
“Women escape domestic violence, rapes, what have you,” she said. “Parents escape for a better life for their children, and being separated, and possibly not ever seeing their kids again – how can people live with that?”
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