After five days of camping near a processing center for undocumented immigrants, members of Occupy ICE ICT issued a single demand. They demanded that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility at 555 N. Woodlawn be inspected by a select group of elected officials. Those officials include Democratic state Rep. Gail Finney.
Rep. Finney told The Eagle that she has been trying to get in touch with ICE, but has not reached anyone. Earlier Friday, she went inside the facility at 555 N. Woodlawn, but said no one was there.
The lack of a response from ICE has raised frustrations, Finney said.
Immigrant activist Dennis Romero said that the events of this week weren't a protest, but were a "barricade" against intolerance, bigotry and the separation of children from their mothers. The demand is a simple inspection of the facility, he said.
"That's all we are asking, that they are able to quell our fears," Romero said. "We don't know what's in there and if it's so secretive, why is it so secretive?"
“One of the things we’d like to see is make sure the conditions are humane, if they have detainees how many, are they getting quality care like food, clothing, toiletries,” Finney said. “We are concerned and would like to have communications and a visit to see for ourselves.”
Protesters have stayed near the ICE building at 555 N. Woodlawn since Sunday evening. On Monday morning, they moved to the corner of Woodlawn and Central after being told that they had to leave the parking lot of 555 N. Woodlawn, which is private property rented by the government, or face possible arrest. They were required by police to remove their tents on Tuesday.
Protesters with Occupy ICE ICT were told to move for the second day in a row Tuesday as they attempted to protest at the corner of Woodlawn and Central in front of the shopping center where ICE has a building.
Thursday afternoon, police seized tables, bottled water and other property after giving protesters a “notice of violation” that listed “needed improvements to the property.”
"The Wichita Police Department are working to facilitate protestor’s First Amendment rights while balancing property rights of others," Police Spokesman Paul Cruz said in an email. "Pursuant to Code of the City of Wichita, citizens were asked to remove any and all chairs, benches, tables fencing, goods, signs and litter from the public right of way."
Cruz wrote that the police have received numerous complaints from nearby businesses and that they told protesters they could keep a personal-use amount of water.
“They’re weaponizing this heat,” said protester Mike Shatz. “We’re going to make this so much worse. Every time they’ve made us move or taken something, we’ve made it worse. … Leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone.”
After police left Thursday, the group set up large signs on tarps and upside-down American flags, held up with packages of bottled water. Those were taken by police on Friday.
“Today it was discovered our military has been secretly discharging immigrant soldiers for the past few weeks after promising them citizenship. The reason is that they claim their family members make them a security risk. This is one of many reasons we fly these flags upside down,” protester Michael Mihalakis (known as Meko Haze) posted on his Facebook account Thursday.
The building at 555 N. Woodlawn has been rented as an office for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other departments since 2013. It includes office space where undocumented immigrants are processed for detention and deportation.
In 2013, ICE told The Eagle that the building would include four temporary holding cells.