Activists chanted against supposed detainments of undocumented immigrants in Austin in front of the J.J. Pickle Federal Building on Friday afternoon.
About 40 protesters gathered on the building’s steps around 3 p.m., according to a tweet from KVUE reporter Erin Jones. Youth Rise Texas, which mentors teens of undocumented immigrants, organized the protest against federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents.
Environmental activist Dave Cortez helped facilitate the protest because he said undocumented immigrants are afraid of getting detained in the area.
“Good people in our community get snatched up and taken away without any recourse,” Cortez said. “We saw their families come up to us at the rally just totally shaken, scared, crying.”
ICE released a statement on reports of detainments to KVUE.
“ICE conducts operations daily nationwide,” the agency said in a statement. “ICE does not conduct random sweeps; all ICE operations are based on investigative leads. By removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety.”
Alicia Torres, 31, said she is undocumented and fears her family will be detained if they get stopped. Torres said her family has lived in Austin for more than 20 years, and her siblings have children who are U.S. citizens.
“They’ve (Torres’ family) basically been under house arrest,” Torres said. “I’m not scared because I know that is what (ICE) is trying to do. I would be more scared to see more people out of here, but I know this is the time when we fight back.”
Protesters waved around signs that read “STOP Deportations.” Their chants of “Down, down with deportation” competed with the wailing of guitars and banter from people enjoying a Friday night out as the group walked down 6th Street.
In a press conference earlier that day, Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said APD responded at 6:05 a.m. to an ICE agent in need of assistance while trying to arrest someone.
“ICE agents, federal agents, were here conducting an operation,” Manley said. “They have full jurisdiction … and they got themselves in a circumstance to where they needed help, and we will always help a fellow officer. We were not a part of this operation.”
The ICE agent told APD the suspect attempted to grab his gun. Manley said police were not involved in the arrest, arriving only after the ICE agent attempted to arrest the suspect.
“There have been reports throughout the day that we were a part of this operation, that we were present when it happened,” Manley said. “And that just is not correct.”
Manley said ICE agents have the authority as a federal entity to arrest undocumented immigrants, but local police do not turn over undocumented immigrants to ICE because he wants to maintain trust with the community. On Friday, the Mexican Consulate of Austin confirmed to KVUE 44 immigrants were detained in the past 48 hours.
“We are not concerned about citizenship status,” Manley said. “We are concerned with criminal activity.”