A protest today by immigration rights activists continued in Tucson for more than four hours, prompting the federal court to shutdown a deportation process known as Operation Streamline for the day.
About 80 immigrant rights activists are protesting at the federal courthouse downtown, blocking entrances as well as buses carrying people to hearing that could result in their deportation. By noon police had used power saws to remove two of about 10 protesters who had used chains to attach themselves to the wheels of one of two buses. By 12:30 one of the buses was back on the road and officers worked on removing protesters from the second one. About 30 minutes later that bus was also able to leave.
The group stopped the buses on the Interstate 10 frontage road as they approached the courthouse, and some of the activists chained themselves to the wheels while others hung banners critical of the fast-track immigration deportation court process called Operation Streamline.
About 70 people suspected of being in the United States without authorization remained on the buses during the protest. Police were providing them with water.
The protest started about 8 a.m., quickly escalating to a blockade on the driveway into the courthouse at the corner of West Congress Street and South Granada Avenue. Later, some some demonstrators stopped the busses carrying immigrants to court for a hearing under the Operation Streamline. Implemented in Tucson in 2008, Operation Streamline was supposed to fast-track up to 100 prosecutions of immigrants a day.
Protesters said their objective was to shut down the hearings for at least one day. Shortly before noon, federal officials confirmed hearing were canceled Friday.
Nearly half of all criminal defendants and 97 percent of petty-offense defendants in the state's federal courts are prosecuted for immigration violations.
The protest this morning is the latest confrontation between immigration reform activists and local authorities. On Tuesday night up to 100 activists tried to keep Border Patrol agents from taking two men into custody who had been stopped by Tucson police for a traffic violation. In that incident, activist surrounded a Border Patrol vehicle with a human chain and eventually were dispersed by police using pepper spray. Four people were taken into Border Patrol custody, and the driver received a civil traffic citation.
Today's demonstration prompted response from officers from the Tucson Police Department, Border Patrol and U.S. Marshals.
"The end goal is to stop streamline for a day," Ella Magon, with the community group Tierra Libertad, said earlier in the day. She echoed concerns from many local activists about the rise in local deportations and police policies used to refer people to the Border Patrol. Police officials have said they are simply complying with state law, commonly known as SB1070.
Tucson police responded to the protest after receiving three 911 calls just before 8 a.m., said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor.
The first two 911 callers told police people were blocking a couple of U.S. Border Patrol buses near West Simpson Street and the Interstate 10 frontage road.
The third caller said another group was blocking access to the Federal Courthouse near South Church Avenue and West Cushing Street, Villasenor said.
Police officers responded to the courthouse and Border Patrol buses, which were taking about 70 prisoners, including eight felons, to an Operation Streamline event at the courthouse, he said.
There were at least 12 people who surrounded the bus, chaining themselves to the tires, along with 50-75 people who were chanting.
Tucson Police called in about 75 officers, as well as additional detectives and commanders, to the scenes.
The U.S. Marshals, Border Patrol and Arizona Department of Public Safety officers also responded to the buses and the courthouse.
TPD arrested 17 people, including 12 who chained themselves to the buses.
The people who chained themselves to the buses are facing charges of hindering prosecution, a felony.
Other charges included not obeying an order to disperse.
More charges could be forthcoming, he said.