By Chrissy Suttles
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – More than three dozen demonstrators marched through the streets of Cheyenne on Wednesday to protest increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity here and nationwide.
The May Day march, organized by the local advocacy group Juntos, was one of many efforts here to put ICE “on trial” for what activists say is systematic oppression and harassment of already marginalized communities.
Attendees held signs and shouted impassioned political chants as they walked from the Wyoming Governor’s Office to Cheyenne’s current ICE office at 308 W. 21st St. They first delivered a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon’s office encouraging Gordon to consider immigrants when championing family values.
“When ICE picks up a working father in the early morning who had no criminal record and leaves a family with no reprieve, our family values are violated,” part of the letter read.
Juntos Director Antonio Serrano, said local ICE arrests have increased significantly in the past couple of years, but noted the agency’s involvement has steadily grown for more than a decade.
President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy has indeed prompted more regional activity. Colorado and Wyoming saw a 20% increase in arrests and deportations from 2016 to 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The number of undocumented people arrested without a criminal history rose dramatically during that time.
“We lose about one person a week in Cheyenne,” Serrano said. “In Jackson, they’re hit every other week. Many times, the family doesn’t really know who to call. When immigrants are taken, they just disappear until they arrive at a detention center. It’s scary. ICE has done horrific things and, because of that, families are too fearful to do something.”
Alejandro Jimenez, an organizer with the University of Wyoming’s MEChA student group, shared his experiences growing up in a rural state with limited diversity. Jimenez moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 9 and became a citizen just a few years ago.
“Growing up in Wyoming can seem like a defeating experience,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of people who look like you in your schools, communities or in the places you want to feel safe. You feel like you’re always building tough skin. My family and I have citizenship, so we’ll never have to face many of the fears other families in this state do every single day.”
Mohamed Salih with the Southeast Wyoming Islamic Center and other Cheyenne faith leaders attended the march in solidarity.
“I am saddened and disheartened to see the anger aimed at undocumented and legal immigrants,” Salih said. “The suspicion, fear and hatred ... I cry for the separated children and their families.”
Organizers said continued dissent is vital, especially as ICE plans to build a new facility in town.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle first reported last September that ICE would be moving its temporary holding facility from downtown Cheyenne to a larger building on the city’s east side. Millions in renovations to the Arundel Technology Park building, located at 7052 Commerce Circle, will include a short-term holding facility for detained immigrants awaiting processing and transport to longer-term detention facilities.
Documents filed with the City of Cheyenne at that time revealed plans for a total of three holding rooms with a capacity for up to 19 detainees.
The closest long-term ICE detention center is in Aurora, Colorado.
“They keep feeding us this story that they’re only looking for criminals, but we know that’s a lie,” Serrano said. “We’ve been working with more families than I can count, and they are not criminals. They’re truck drivers, concrete finishers, ranchers, business owners and even faith leaders.”
A regional ICE spokeswoman said she couldn’t provide an updated construction timeline for the new facility by press time, nor did she comment on whether the agency will increase its involvement following the move.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming hosted a legal observer training Tuesday evening ahead of the rally to encourage accountability among marchers and law enforcement officials.
ACLU legal observers act as third-party witnesses at demonstrations, documenting incidents of police misconduct or violations of constitutional rights. The ACLU trains observers to take video, photos and detailed notes during altercations.
“Being neutral is incredibly important when it comes to being a legal observer at events like these,” said Kadyn Wittman, community engagement associate for the region’s ACLU. “You might actually have a greater impact by recording what’s happening, getting all of the information and presenting it later, where it can have actual ramifications against that person.”
Two Cheyenne residents served as observers during Wednesday’s march, although interactions between marchers and law enforcement remained peaceful.