Frustrated attendees at a recent town hall meeting in Miramar asked questions and screamed that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needed to be abolished.
Known as ICE, the immigration agency has a field office in Miramar at 2805 SW 145th Ave., and since the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration, many people have been referred to field offices for monthly check-ins, where they encounter long wait times in the heat without access to bathrooms or water.
Miramar officials hosted the town hall at the Miramar Cultural Center Aug. 8 because the city had been dealing with backed up traffic and even protests in the streets like one that happened back in July when about 17 people were arrested, according to published reports.
Officials tried to address concerns about the current treatment of immigrants and to inform residents about the level of Miramar’s jurisdiction over the federal agency.
Among the speakers were Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, Police Chief Dexter Williams and City Attorney Jamie Cole, as well as Congressman Alcee Hastings and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. Representatives from ICE and other federal agencies had been invited but did not attend.
The meeting was interrupted by frustrated attendees at many points, who said ICE needed to be abolished. However, at no time was anyone removed from the meeting. Attendees were allowed to write questions on cards, and some were addressed.
Hastings at one point said that he was willing to support legislation that would abolish ICE, but the effort had not gotten enough votes in Congress.
Messam said immigration was an important issue, since Miramar was a city of immigrants, much like many cities and towns, in the country. He spoke of what the city could and could not do, and that he was aware that families of people waiting to get into the facility were faced with hot summer weather and long lines. He acknowledged the traffic on 29th Street where the facility is located. He said many people had posted to social media about the conditions they faced when they came to report their status as they were legally required to do. He noted that people visiting an ICE facility in Fort Myers had some of the same problems as Miramar.
“We hope that the town hall meeting will present some information that will clarify and dispel rumors and misperceptions that are going on in the community,” said Messam. “Because we have an ICE facility in the city it has brought out a lot of issues, including the national discussion as it relates to immigration.”
City Attorney Cole said the federal government takes precedence in the situation. He encouraged residents to write to their state and federal elected representatives to ask them to address the problem and change it.
“You will tell your representatives we’re not happy with this and please change it,” said Cole. “That’s the conclusion. There’s very little a city can do.”
Chief Williams said temporary tents and additional parking have been added. Messam said food and water collections were ongoing for people using the ICE facility.
Hastings chastised the federal agencies and also the president for what was going on there.
“Let me make this clear to you,” said Hastings, “I don’t know how many people in the audience are Republican. I mean exactly what I am saying. All of us know the circumstances of the deportees, and the children who are still being held and not being reunited with their parents. This country is better than this. We cannot allow for this kind of activity to continue. I would like to remind Donald J. Trump that his wife came here as a result of chain migration. If you continue to elect Republicans, you will get just what you got here.”
Wilson said she visited several ICE facilities, and noticed that officials still were trying to separate children from their parents. Wilson called the president anti-immigrant and racist.
“You can be sure that he does not respect immigrants,” said Wilson. “He calls them murderers and rapists. This is how he feels about people of color. Those hats that say ‘Make America Great Again,’ mean make America white again. We are fighting the policies put in place by this administration. Our office is working with Alcee Hastings’ office, and the entire delegation locally, and the city of Miramar to do what we can. We have to hold their feet to the fire.”
Pembroke Pines City Commissioner Angelo Castillo, who was present at the meeting, expressed frustration with what was going on, and how people at the ICE facility should be better treated.
“Repeatedly, we have seen ICE, among other federal agencies, shocking the conscience of Americans by mistreating people, most often people of color, in needlessly harsh and increasingly dehumanizing ways,” said Castillo. “The conscience of our people can only be tested so long and the protests we’re seeing now are a direct reaction to this offensive treatment.”
Miramar resident Laurie Woodward Garcia was concerned, she said, about what the city was doing and how the conversation at the meeting seemed one-sided.
“I woke up this morning with a deep sadness,” said Garcia. “The city of Miramar's town hall on the ICE Miramar facility filled me with the same profound weakness in my bones I felt the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. Our nation, our community, our people are lost and broken. No one wants to listen. I really believe that if you want to be a great leader, you have to earn respect. You do not earn respect by telling people ‘no one had to do anything.’ You do not earn respect by not allowing people to ask questions. You do not earn respect by being tone-deaf to your audience. You do not earn respect by advertising a town hall and then refusing to converse with the people who showed up. You do not earn respect by not allowing a conversation with the people in the community who go out of love each week to help others. You do not earn respect by refusing to acknowledge the Marias in the audience who work tirelessly to help our community. You do not earn respect by lecturing the community on abuses they witness firsthand. Respect is earned by allowing dialogue. A one-sided conversation is not respect. If you want our respect, you have to be willing to sit down and listen to us, not some chosen questions you read off a notecard.
Garcia also said by the city creating an extra parking lot; erecting tents; putting up benches; allowing a third building for outside access; entertaining a budget; and hiring more officers at ICE Miramar, they are enabling ICE to expand their operations
“Although these actions might have been well-intended, the end result has been to add fuel to the fire. It is a slippery slope that leads to my last question, said in sarcasm: ‘When does the electrified-fence, children-caging area, ankle-bracelet station, five-story ICE building go up?’”