About 40 protesters demanding an end to the targeting of immigrants in La Plata County stood outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s headquarters in Durango on Tuesday morning.
“We’re here to show ICE there’s a lot of people in this town that don’t believe in their presence and their scare tactics,” said Enrique Orozco, a Durango activist who has been working with the local immigrant community.
Across the country, protests have surfaced over ICE’s practices since the Trump administration’s call for a crackdown on illegal immigration.
In Durango, protesters have gathered outside the La Plata County Courthouse in an effort to deter ICE agents who patrol the courthouse when they suspect someone living in the country illegally is going to appear.
On Tuesday morning, however, protesters gathered at 7 a.m. outside ICE’s local headquarters at 23 Sheppard Drive in Bodo Industrial Park. After an hour, only one worker pulled into the building and did not interact with the group outside.
Orozco said undocumented immigrants are largely overlooked, despite being an essential part of the community.
“Durango is a town that thrives off the service industry,” he said. “Cooks. Cleaners. People working long hours for cheap labor. They keep the town going.”
Protesters woke up at dawn to stand outside ICE’s headquarters to send a message that the department’s “secret” ways of policing immigrants are no longer tolerated, Orozco said.
“We will be vigilant of their presence,” he said.
Wendolyne Omaña, a Durango resident who also works with the immigrant community, said ICE has engaged in “non-stop intimidation” of some people for the past eight months.
She has heard stories of ICE agents parking at the entrance of neighborhoods and waiting for people they suspect of living in the country illegally, or stalking them at their place of work.
As a result, there’s a deep sense of anxiety and trauma among families. Some kids, she said, don’t want to go to school, fearing their father or mother will be picked up.
“(ICE’s) tactics are extreme, radical,” Omaña said. “I’ve seen people I’ve known for years with (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms.”
In the past eight months, Omaña said she knows 10 people who were arrested by ICE. But she’s heard of a lot more arrests.
Alethea Smock, a public affairs officer for ICE based in Denver, wrote in an emailed statement that deportation officers “are sworn law enforcement officers who carry out the arrest, detention and removal of illegal aliens in a professional manner.”
“ICE continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” she wrote. “ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Shelby Robinson said she traveled from her home in Mancos to join the protest, saying she is “appalled” by the current treatment of immigrants in the country.
“Unless you are Native American, almost all of us are immigrants,” she said. “We all had chances and came from somewhere else. No one should be denied that.”
La Plata County resident Margaret Cozina said ICE’s actions are a “form of terrorism.”
“People who have been here for decades are being picked up and sent out of the country,” she said. “And it’s not right. Our hearts are touched, and we don’t want this kind of activity in our community.”
Smock wrote: “Aliens arrested by ICE for violations of law as part of the agency’s targeted enforcement actions receive all due process afforded to them under the law. In performing their sworn duties, ICE officers conduct themselves in accordance with the authorities conveyed to them under federal law and the Constitution.”
For security reasons, ICE said it does not disclose local staffing levels. The agency also did not provide the number of arrests it has made in Durango.