An hour after federal police ripped up their campsite while local cops watched, Jesús Ibáñez pointed to the ground. Specifically, he pointed at a line of tiled, sweltering concrete just yards from the Seventh Street entrance of Louisville’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices, upon which sat a row of occupied fold-out chairs that look more at home at a Louisville Cardinals football tailgate than they do at a political protest.
“I know how much they love arbitrary lines, and they said ‘That line right there is federal, and that one is city, so you can be on that side,’ ” Ibáñez, a spokesman for Mijente Louisville, said with a chuckle.
The officers who instigated the early morning teardown pointed to the line as an indicator of where city-owned property began, where the campers could protest, Ibáñez said, adding that the chairs at the rear of the camp were behind that line. “So I guess we’re still on federal property.”
For someone who was already confronted by federal and local law enforcement once today, he and his cohorts — some 30 protesters, most of them young adults — appeared relaxed.
Around 7:30 a.m. Monday, a contingent of Department of Homeland Security officers had swept through the camp, dismantling personal tents and a medical station that had been erected by the protesters. The protesters have since started to re-erect their tents on the city-owned sidewalk.
The encampment, dubbed “Camp Compassion,” is the scene of Louisville’s nascent Occupy ICE encampment, the latest such camp to spring up amid a growing grassroots movement that seeks to disrupt the activities of the controversial federal agency and to gain public and political support for its abolition nationwide.
In a statement released Monday morning, the LMPD accused the protesters of “barricading an entrance” to a federal building.
“While LMPD policy and Louisville ordinance limits the ability for officers to assist federal immigration agents in enforcement, it does not remove our obligation to enforce state law,” the statement read. “While we respect the right to peacefully protest, it must be lawful. We have a duty to make sure that protests are orderly, including not blocking public roadways or obstructing entrances to buildings.”
“LMPD officers responded in an effort to monitor the safety of the protesters, employees of the federal building, and the public,” the statement continued. “Our role is to maintain public safety. Federal officers handled the removal of the barricade and other items placed on their property.”
The protesters, meanwhile, contend that LMPD helped the federal agents.
This camp is one of several that have formed in cities across the United States in recent weeks in opposition to the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, reports of child and family detention camps for undocumented immigrants and a belief that elected officials — primarily liberal Democrats — aren’t doing enough to stop it.
By 8:30 a.m. Monday, the re-grouped “Camp Compassion” saw people making signs, sipping bottled water and trying to ameliorate the day’s excessive heat any way they could as nearby commuters contend with rush-hour traffic on Broadway. Occasionally, a driver honked their horn, prompting cheers from the camp.
Across the street, a half-dozen sunglasses-clad LMPD officers were gathered around a handful of squad cars, monitoring the camp. One of the officers spoke with Insider Louisville, saying only “We don’t talk to media.”
Although the scene is somewhat reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which were characterized in mainstream media as not having clear demands, Ibáñez said the goal of this movement is clear.
“We’re here to abolish ICE,” he said. “We want people to see that, you know, it’s not just rallies, it’s not just on our Facebook liking a page. It’s time for direct action; it’s time for civil disobedience.”
The protesters said they will remain at the site as long as they can, or until ICE is dissolved.
So far, the only elected official in Kentucky to offer support for the ICE abolition movement is State Rep. Attica Scott, D-41. Scott addressed the crowd at Saturday’s march on the Seventh Street ICE office, which drew more than a thousand people.
“Make sure you go down to Metro Hall, make sure you confront the mayor and Metro Council every chance you get, and say to them ‘Make Louisville a sanctuary city,’ ” Scott said. “Say to Governor Bevin and your state rep and your state senator that we will not stand idly by while you turn Kentucky into a police state.”
Louisville Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth issued a statement critical of ICE but did not call for its dissolution.
“ICE has definitely acted in cruel and inhumane ways,” Yarmuth’s statement began. “However, the agency would only be replaced with something similar. They need to be held strictly accountable for their violations of human decency. When you have 19 current ICE investigators calling for their own agency to be abolished, that tells all of us something is seriously wrong.
“The lack of oversight of every agency that’s involved in this humanitarian crisis, from HHS to DHS, and specifically ICE and the border patrol, is at the heart of this,” Yarmuth’s statement continued. “We need vigilant oversight and transparency so the American people really know what’s going on because right now this secrecy leads us to suspect that they’re afraid of the American people seeing what they’re doing.”
Ibáñez and other protesters who spoke with Insider were critical of Mayor Greg Fischer who had attended a “Families Belong Together” rally Saturday outside of Metro Hall that was separate from the march on ICE offices.
“Fischer is always espousing that the city is a ‘compassionate city,’ ” Ibáñez said. “This weekend, after putting his fist in the air saying he supports immigrants, he was quoted by the Courier Journal saying ‘Sanctuary is a political term.’ That’s upsetting.”
The protesters have called on Fischer to take a cue from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler who ordered city police not to break up a similar encampment that had formed around Portland’s ICE office.
“Everything Fischer said on Saturday was a lie,” Chanelle Helms, a co-founder of Louisville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, said. “We aren’t Republican or Democrat or whatever, but he’s just the same as Bevin, he’s just the same as Trump. Maybe [Fischer] doesn’t like what [Trump] says, but they’re business people in office claiming things aren’t political, but your ass took a political office.”
In a statement released early Monday evening, Mayor Greg Fischer called for reforming ICE, not abolishing it.
“The protests occurring in Louisville and other cities once again highlight the need for Washington to finally overhaul our immigration laws to ensure safe borders, a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and to reform ICE so that immigrants and refugees are treated fairly and humanely,” Fischer’s statement read. “Our city welcomes immigrants, supports the right to peacefully protest and strongly opposes the separation of families. To be clear, this morning federal law enforcement removed protestors’ items from federal property; LMPD officers are on hand only to monitor the safety of the protesters, federal employees, and the public.”
Social media reports Monday afternoon indicated that the Louisville ICE office had suspended activity for the day, but a request for confirmation from the agency was not immediately returned.
Ibáñez says that right now, what the camp needs are more people.
“We want to show that this is a large movement,” he said. “But we also want the mayor and other politicians to come out and say ‘Abolish ICE.’ That would set a great precedent so that other leaders in Kentucky might be able to stand up for that.”
UPDATED 5:45 PM: This story has been updated to include a statement from Mayor Greg Fischer regarding the protest’s call to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to correct statements that LMPD officers directly participated in the sweeps; LMPD officers present at the camp did not participate in the sweeps but watched instead.