Thousands gathered in front of Aurora’s private immigration detention center last Friday in anticipation for ICE “raids” that were supposed to begin on Sunday morning.
No sweeping action had taken place in the metro area as of Sunday afternoon, and it was the third time in recent weeks that tweets from President Trump or announcements from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement caused the nation’s undocumented residents to brace for something big.
Some 2,000 people who have signed voluntary deportation orders were thought to be the subject of these operations. News reports across the country published Sunday said nothing had happened in many U.S. cities. The New York Times reported “low-key” enforcement had begun, though they only identified a handful of operations this weekend in Chicago, Florida and New York resulting in fewer arrests.
The Colorado Rapid Response Network, which operates a hotline for people to call if they think they’ve seen ICE activity, said they only had one call on Sunday. They posted on their Facebook page that the activity, supposedly ICE or police detaining three people on Federal Boulevard near 38th Avenue, was unconfirmed after Network responders interviewed people near the alleged scene.
Sen. Julie Gonzales, who represents Denver at the Colorado Statehouse, said she didn’t expect fireworks on Sunday. She spent years working for local immigration attorney Hans Meyer before her legislative post. If anything happens, she thinks it will be during the week.
“They don’t tend to work weekends,” she said. “They’ll be knocking on peoples doors very, very early” on Monday or Tuesday, if they do at all.
Update: The Colorado Rapid Response Network reported they confirmed one ICE action in the metro area Monday afternoon, in which five vehicles allegedly surrounded a car and detained two people.
Regular threats from Washington have caused Denverites who could be affected to walk a fine line between caution and resistance.
Over the weekend, a graphic circulated around Facebook that reads, in Spanish: “It’s time to assert our rights! This Sunday do not buy anything! Absolutely nothing! Stay in your house. Together, we can show this country how missed we would be.”
Activist Cristian Solano-Córdova said it was a way to undermine fears that may already be keeping them inside.
“They’re going to be hiding out at home anyway,” he said. “It’s a way to make them feel empowered.”
While Gonzales said the fear is still “viscerally real,” she pointed out that it’s nothing new.
“We are two and a half years into his presidency, where all he’s done is sought to fearmonger,” she said. “It is explicit that he is trying to use this threat to polarize the American people and try to win an election.”
That polarization has played out in recent weeks and even shown some rifts within the movement to protect people without documentation.
During the protests on Friday, event organizers pleaded with a group that splintered from the main crowd to demonstrate on the detention center’s federal property, despite a thin line of plastic chains blocking entry. D Garcia, who led a march earlier in the evening, stood up on a concrete pillar and told the group to rejoin with the rest of the protest. She said they could be arrested for trespassing.
“Call the cops,” said Nacho Perez to another organizer attempting to coax him and others off the property. “My brother’s in there.”
By the end of the evening, the Mexican flag Perez was carrying had been hoisted onto the detention center’s flag poles along with an upside-down American Flag and another that read “fuck cops.” Organizers from the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition (CIRC), who helped put on the broader protest, were unequivocally upset by the move.
CIRC’s Victor Galvan said many people without documentation took a risk by attending the event, and that the splinter protest put them at risk. He was incensed when a radical protester spun on and, he said, “assaulted” one of his colleagues.
“They just didn’t think twice about what that meant for the people that were there,” he said.
Images and news stories about the flags were shared on Twitter by many people cheering the potential raids, including Donald Trump, Jr., who spoke at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver on Friday.
Republican State Rep. Dave Williams said in an email to Colorado Public Radio that he supported the Trump administration’s efforts on immigration, including potential enforcement this weekend.
“All law-abiding citizens should applaud the Trump administration’s efforts to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders,” he wrote. “The ICE operations occurring in sanctuary cities around the country, including Denver, are necessary for public safety as they are prioritizing the deportation of illegal aliens with serious criminal backgrounds.”
But Sen. Gonzales said the forces that led to this polarization have also resulted in some positive action for her camp. She was glad to see so many people show up, regardless of the conflict. Rising anger and an urge to act has caused a broader population to decry raids and detention alongside people who have long organized around it.
And, she added, knowledge of constitutional rights and the Rapid Response Network’s hotline number have reached people than ever. A torrent of “know your rights” pamphlets, videos and trainings have reshaped response to possible raids.
“I have never seen this concerted an effort to get this information out,” she said. “I’m very excited about that.”
Meyer, the attorney and Gonzales’ former boss, told Denverite he thinks the majority of ICE apprehensions occur after people give up more information about their legal status than they are required to.
Many phones came out when CIRC’s Cristian Solano-Córdova read the hotline number aloud during the protest.