Every day, dozens of elderly people and parents with small children are forced to arrive before the sun rises at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office in Miramar, where they stand for hours in long lines without shelter from the sun or rain. And there isn't enough parking for everyone forced to arrive for ICE check-ins, so tow trucks have been filmed waiting to haul immigrants' cars away. Some people are detained at their meetings and never return.
Now, after activists have published multiple videos of the horrid conditions outside the facility, security guards have begun threatening to "detain" activists documenting the problems. Yesterday local organizer Maria Asuncion Bilbao was trying to post a Facebook Live stream of the line of immigrants forced to stand in the rain when a guard whipped out a pair of handcuffs and threatened to arrest her.
"This is not the first time they've done that," Bilbao tells New Times. "but it is the first time he showed me handcuffs, so I was scared. But they aren't going to intimidate us. We were on the sidewalk, and the ACLU has told us that's public and we have a right to be there."
Nestor Yglesias, ICE's spokesperson in Miami, says his agency doesn't control security at the facility; the Federal Protective Service hires out independent security contractors. Yglesias says his agency did not order security guards to push activists off the property or threaten to arrest them.
Bilbao's clip begins by simply showing the long line of people — including children — waiting outside in the rain. Seconds later, a gray-uniformed guard appears in the distance. He confronts her at the 45-second mark in the following footage:
"Ma'am, we've told you plenty of times that you're on government property," the guard says. He then unclips handcuffs from his belt.
"You're going to arrest me?" Bilbao asks.
"You cannot be on this property right now," he responds. "I don't have authority to arrest, but I have authority to detain. I'm not a police officer; I'm the security officer for the building."
The officer then claims the sidewalk outside the building is not public property and that Bilbao needs to stand on the other side of the street.
Bilbao and her team of fellow activists organize what they call a "circle of protection" outside the facility regularly. Initially, the group met every Wednesday and handed out water, coffee, and supplies to the people in line, but because crowds have swelled since Donald Trump took office, they have increased their meetings to multiple times per week.
According to the Pew Research Center, Florida saw the biggest jump in ICE arrests from 2016 to 2017. ICE announced at the end of March that it had conducted a statewide raid and arrested 271 immigrants, including 76 people in Miami-Dade County. One man arrested at a raid on a Fort Worth tent-supply company has Down syndrome. He was released from an ICE detention facility in Broward County after his family spoke out publicly, but he likely still faces deportation.
The crowds at the South Florida facility have also led to a fight with the City of Miramar. Because there isn't enough parking, the city's code-enforcement office has filed multiple complaints against the ICE property, which is technically owned by a federal contractor from Ohio. In response, someone ordered a local tow-truck company to haul away illegally parked cars — both ICE and the federal General Services Administration, which handles federal properties, have denied they had anything to do with the towing schemes. Miramar has also cited the ICE property for failing to maintain its landscaping.
ICE maintains that the immigrants stuck in line are able to access water and bathrooms inside the facility by request, but activists on-scene say that, in practice, people standing in line have been routinely denied access to those facilities.
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Activists say the people trapped in line have been subject to "silent raids," in which some of them show up, are detained inside the facility, and never set foot on U.S. soil again. Miramar Police confirmed to New Times earlier this year that, when people get detained, abandoned cars simply sit for days, weeks, or months. Miramar has passed resolutions demanding ICE improve the conditions at the building.
Bilbao was back at the property filming again this morning. She videotaped elderly people and children forced to stand in the hot sun as they waited for their appointments.
"I mean, we have a president who thinks immigrants are 'animals,' but they're not going to intimidate us," Bilbao tells New Times. "They don’t want us to show what they are doing. There are so many disabled, elderly people there — I'm worried they're waiting for someone to die there in line. People have talked about adding canopies or improving the line, but we want the City of Miramar to shut the building down."