A group of more than 20 people gathered in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building Sunday to speak out against the agency’s practices in detention centers — most recently the alleged forced sterilization of women.
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week it is looking into a whistleblower complaint that claimed federal immigration detainees in Georgia underwent unnecessary gynecological surgeries — including full hysterectomies — without their consent.
“With the news cycle being so shocking, it’s easy for people to hear something like that and be like ‘Oh that’s awful,’ and kind of forget about it the next day,” said one protester who wore fake blood on her shirt.
Liberty Nielsen, who also helped plan the protest, said thinking about women recovering from invasive surgeries they weren’t prepared for in a detention center during a pandemic drove her to speak out.
The people who planned the protest described themselves as friends who come together rather than organizers. They said they met each other at other protests over summer, formed a group chat, and decided to start planning some themselves. They do not consider themselves an organized group, so they didn’t name it.
Nielsen said they wanted to plan a decentralized protest because they didn’t see enough action from established organizations, so they decided to do it themselves.
During the protest, protesters entered the street to try to get the attention of ICE employees, but Phoenix police officers came instead. The officers told them if they did not get on the sidewalk they would arrest them.
Protesters linked arms while speaking with the officers in the middle of Central Avenue and eventually returned to the sidewalk. For much of the protest, protesters and officers were engaging in tense discourse around policing, protests and people of color.
After marching around the block, protesters spoke with officers to ensure that no one would be followed home or arrested after the protest finished. This summer, Phoenix police have followed protesters leaving protests and arrested them after the fact, sometimes weeks or months later.
Officers said they would not follow anyone home, and Phoenix police confirmed there were no arrests associated with the protest as of Sunday afternoon.
“Without all of these protests, nothing would change,” said Nielsen. “If we didn’t care about America, we wouldn’t be out here.”
Get in touch with Chloe Jones at Chloe.Jones@arizonarepublic.com and find her on Twitter at @chloeleejones