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Friday
Oct112013

Arizona Immigration Protesters Block Court Proceedings

ABC News(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Immigration activists chained themselves to buses and blocked an entrance to a federal courthouse in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, halting immigration proceedings that could have resulted in deportations.

Protesters forced two buses carrying detainees on their way to court for immigration cases to stop for over four hours beginning about 8 a.m., after they locked themselves to the vehicles five minutes from the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse. Another six protesters chained themselves to gates at a vehicle entrance at the court.

About 70 detainees remained in the buses throughout the demonstration, before police removed the protesters, a U.S. Marshals official told ABC News. Authorities in both locations tried to negotiate with protest leaders and give them a chance to voice their message, but ultimately decided to remove them forcibly, the official said.

Police cut the protesters who barricaded the buses from the vehicles and arrested them, according to Marisa Franco, a protest organizer. The six at the courthouse gates, who used plastic pipes, chicken wire, tar, locks and other materials to lock themselves to the gates, decided to remove themselves when they heard the bus protest had ended, the U.S. Marshals official said.

Many other demonstrators had turned out to support the chained protesters, Franco said.

A coalition of immigration rights groups had called on activists to engage in the demonstrations to draw attention to Operation Streamline, a controversial program that requires federal prosecution and deportation of people who entered the United States illegally.

As part of Operation Streamline, detainees typically meet with their attorneys in the morning before being called upon in the courtroom later in the day, according to Brian Karth, the district court executive for the U.S. District Court, District of Arizona.

"Since that couldn't take place this morning, then we couldn't hold the hearing this afternoon," Karth told ABC News. Other court proceedings did still occur, the U.S. Marshals official said.

Franco, a campaign organizer at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told ABC News that demonstrators took matters into their own hands since President Barack Obama and Congress have failed to act on immigration issue. The fight over immigration reform is a flashpoint in Arizona and Tucson in particular; the city sits about 60 miles from the Mexican border.

"Tucson represents and symbolizes our out-of-control enforcement and deportation regime," Franco said. Operation Streamline, in which detainees are brought into court "en masse," she said, is "the manifestation of an out-of-control deportation system."

Friday's protests were part of the #Not1More Deportation campaign, an anti-deportation project of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. On Monday, the group plans to engage in civil disobedience to shut down U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Phoenix office, Franco said.

Despite the federal government shutdown, all court functions at the courthouse were operating with funding from the judiciary -- although there were some reduced functions -- and the shutdown had no impact on the decision to cancel Friday's proceedings, according to Karth.

If anything, he said, the detainees will have to wait longer for their cases to be heard, since the protests prevented them from coming before a judge Friday and a federal holiday on Monday will push back their next chance in court to Tuesday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio