UW students organize anti-ICE protest in Seattle

“This all Started as a conversation I was having with a friend on our way to pick up a couch from Value Village,” said Nakita Minkin, one of the organizers of the Seattle Rally Against ICE group. “Frankly we were shooting for 30 or 40 people.” Instead, this past Friday, about 400 people filled the sidewalk outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Seattle.

The event was organized by Nikita and Ava Sharifi, two political science students at The University of Washington, and supported by more than a dozen local activist organizations including NWDC resistance, Seattle Solidarity Network, and Never Again Action. It filled almost 200 feet of sidewalk outside the ICE offices on 2nd Ave.

The organizers have one specific demand, “That the Washington legislature bans private immigration detention centers throughout the state,” following in the footsteps of Illinois.

Migrant children from all over the country are shipped to Cowlitz County Juvinile Detention Center in Longview, Washington. While the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, what Sharifi called “Washington’s best kept secret,” is the largest migrant detention facility in the nation, holding more than 15,000 people.

Speakers included the Reverend Dr. Kelle Brown from the Plymouth Church in Seattle, Indegenous rights activist Matt Remle, Maru Mora Villapando of NWDC resistance and a dozen other civil and immigrant’s rights activists from across Washington State. They called for sweeping immigration reform, including the end of for-profit prisons, the end of child separation, and the abolition of ICE itself.

 “We don’t know how to transform institutions,” said Rev. Dr. Brown, “Once they become codified, and they learn how to do violence, you don’t reform them, you dismantle them, you tear them apart, because they are of no use.”

In the past three years, 24 Immigrants have died in ICE custody. In the past year alone, seven children have died while being held, and many have had family in the country they could have been placed with. “Shame!” exclaimed Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.

Cheers and chants of “Shut Down Ice” and “Free those Kids” reverberated through the streets of Downtown Seattle. As did chants of “USA” and “Fri-To-Chips” from the group “Proud Boys,” the neo-fascist organization founded by Gavin McInnes, and most famous for its rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina.  

A wall of Seattle Police separated the contingent of about 20 MAGA hat wearing, American flag waving counter protestors, as they chanted and jeered through megaphones. Officials encouraged those in attendance not to engage, and other than a few shouting matches the event remained peaceful. Still, Sharifi advised protestors to walk to their cars in groups at the end of the event.

Several protestors, requesting to be left anonymous, expressed annoyance at the policy of non-engagement. “Not fighting back, being passive, gives them a platform,” said one man after being asked to step away from the police line. “We can not let them speak without challenge.”    

Despite the hostile presence, the demonstration was a resounding success according to Sharifi. “Our goal is to keep the motivation running,” she said. “It takes time, but we have to keep meeting.” And they have plans to do just that. More protests are scheduled in the coming weeks.