Dozens of protesters tried to use their bodies as shields to prevent the detention of three suspected illegal immigrants stopped in front of Southside Presbyterian Church Tuesday night.
At the end of a sometimes raucous confrontation, the crowd was dispersed after Tucson Police Department officers used pepper spray to force them back onto the sidewalk.
About 7 p.m., two day laborers with the Corazon de Tucson were stopped by Tucson police officers for not having a functioning light on their license plate.
Neither of them had a driver’s license or identification and had never been issued one by the state, said Sgt. Maria Hawke, a Tucson police spokeswoman. The misdemeanor triggers a mandatory vehicle impoundment.
State law also required the officersto seek immigration check, prompting the officers to ask the Border Patrol to respond to the scene, she said.
Before long, dozens of activists and community members had gathered outside the church to protest the detention of the two men.
Up to 100 people were there at the peak of the protest, Tucson police estimate.
About 20 or 30 of the protesters formed a double circle around the Border Patrol vehicle in an effort to stop them from leaving. Another person tried to crawl under the vehicle, said Raúl Al-qaraz Ochoa, a local activist who has used that tactic before, resulting in his arrest.
Border Patrol agents were pulling on people trying to get them away from the vehicle and had their Tasers out, Al-qaraz Ochoa said.
Border Patrol was unavailable for comment on the incident Tuesday night.
While the crowd tried to stop the detention of the two men, Al-qaraz Ochoa said someone yelled, “they are taking someone else.” He tried to run after the car but it was too late.
In that incident, a woman was driving through the road heading home when a Border Patrol agent asked her for her driver’s license.
Shortly after 8 p.m. there were several Border Patrol and TPD vehicles blocking South 10th Avenue from West 22nd street to West 24th street.
A total of seven TPD personnel responded to the scene, Hawke said. She did not know how many Border Patrol agents were there. Some activists estimated it was more than 15 agents.
When the activists tried again to keep the agents from leaving, a Tucson police force commander there authorized the use of pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
Tucson firefighters were called to treat the most affected by the spray.
No arrests were made, Hawke said.
This is not the first time local organizers have protested and tried to prevent similar apprehension, which they refer to as s separation of families.
“We want to make the injustice of separating families visible,” said Al-qaraz Ochoa.
When arrests are made, they are usually made quietly and no one finds out until after the fact, he said.
“The community intervened this time so they wouldn’t take a member of our community away,” he said. “We are tired of only taking note of what’s happening.”
Hawke said it was the first time the department faced a spontaneous protest like this.