Port protest

Protesters block vehicle lanes leading to the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Saturday, June 30.

After a splinter group involved in the Families Belong Together rally and march on June 30 unexpectedly blocked traffic at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, community members voiced divided opinions on whether it was an effective strategy for getting the event’s message across.

Some protesters said the act of civil disobedience was part of the plan – “This was always our intent,” Rev. Matthew Crary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Amado told the NI at the time – but others were caught off guard by the action, including Dick McCune of Nogales, an elected precinct committee member of the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party.

“My wife Mary Darling was there and she was working with the police closely to keep people on sidewalks, and then when it went down to close the port, she just got out of the way,” McCune said, adding that his wife is the chair of the local Democratic Party.

Not only was McCune surprised by the decision to block Saturday traffic at a port that Ambos Nogales community members and business owners rely on, he wasn’t crazy about it, either.

“I think it got the message out, but honestly I’m divided on that. I think it was quite rude,” he said, adding that most of the people who blocked the port “were from up north, from Pima County.”

The act of civil disobedience occurred after hundreds of people gathered for a rally at Karam Park and march through downtown protesting against the Trump administration’s border and immigration policies. During the march, however, some protesters stopped at the crosswalk in front of the DeConcini port, blocking southbound traffic as they chanted “Free the children,” “Abolish ICE” and “Tear down the wall.”

They later blocked traffic at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Crawford Street, then moved into the port’s outbound inspection area, where they verbally challenged U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers about the administration’s decision to separate families caught illegally crossing the border.

Ron Pulliam of Patagonia, who took part in blocking the vehicle lanes at the port of entry, stood firmly by his decision, saying the group chose to protest at the port, but it was the officials’ decision to close the port down.

“If anyone thinks it’s worse to stand in front of the port of entry than it is to (put) children into cages, then I’d like to have a discussion with that person,” Pulliam said of those who question the action.

Catching flies with vinegar

The ramping up of tactics at the Nogales protest – as well as the ambivalent response to it by protest participants – comes amid a debate among Democrats over whether public confrontations are an appropriate and productive means for challenging a Trump administration that itself uses conflict and incendiary rhetoric as part of its messaging. In terms of the immigration issue, some see the administration’s policies as so repugnant and dangerous that they must be combatted in the strongest terms. Others on the left, as well as Trump himself, say that harsh tactics and rallying calls to “abolish ICE” will hurt Democrats in the long run.

Linda Rushton, a Nogales resident and current city council candidate who participated in the Families Belong Together rally at Karam Park, was also unaware of the plan to block the port of entry and wasn’t confident of its effectiveness.

“I don’t know that it’ll have an effect. I think that we’re dealing right now with a national government that has its own agenda,” Rushton said, adding that the best strategy in changing border and immigration policies is to “vote out the present administration.”

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manuel Ruiz of Nogales joined the rally at Karam Park and subsequent march in order to show his displeasure with family separations. But he had mixed feelings about the blockage at the port, which he said happened after he left, saying that “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

“I think it’s important that people show that this is not who we are as Americans, when you separate children from families,” Ruiz said. “But on the other hand, too, I think sometimes it can be taken a little too far and that takes away from what you’re really trying to accomplish.”

McCune, the Democratic party stalwart, said he was impressed with how the Nogales Police Department responded to the civil disobedience, diverting traffic out of the area and trying to diffuse tensions rather than making arrests.

“They did a wonderful job. They did not get drawn into arresting anyone, they did a great job controlling traffic, they were gentlemen,” McCune said.

Online reaction

Locals who didn’t attend the rally or port protest took to social media to give their take on how the events unfolded. While most comments posted to the NI’s Facebook page seemed to be in opposition to blocking traffic at the port, others found it to be a bold move.

“We have more than one port of entry,” Sylvia Barbara wrote in a comment directed at those who had been criticizing the action. “Be proud of what your fellow people are doing. Thousands of children have gone missing. Thousands more have been taken from their families.”

But Sarah Marie Wright said the protesters lost her sympathy with the extreme tactics, posting: “I was in solidarity with them until they blocked the port of entry and walked into the passenger processing area, then they shouted tear down the wall, and yelled at CBP officers.” In another post, John Hays wrote: “I respect the right to protest, but one person’s right should not infringe on another person’s rights.”

At the end of the day, said Ruiz, the county supervisor, it was important for the community to have addressed the issues behind the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“I think it’s important that there were many protests around the country. Whether it was negative or positive, it depends on what side of the issue you’re on,” he said.

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