Monday 16 July 2018

Woman arrested after forcing evacuation of Statue of Liberty during Independence Day immigration protest

Campaigners want to see an end to deportations and separations at the US-Mexico border.

Police officers climbed up on a ladder to stand on a ledge nearby to talk the climber into descending (PIX11/AP)
Police officers climbed up on a ladder to stand on a ledge nearby to talk the climber into descending (PIX11/AP)

Jennifer Peltz and Jake Pearson

A woman protesting US immigration policy climbed the Statue of Liberty’s base and forced the monument’s evacuation on Independence Day.

The protest came hours after several other demonstrators had hung a banner on the statue’s pedestal and had been arrested.

The climber engaged in a four-hour standoff with police before two officers climbed up to the base and went over to her.

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Several people who hung a banner calling for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (AP)

With the dramatic scene unfolding on live television, she and the officers edged carefully around the rim of the statue’s robes toward a ladder, and she climbed down about eight metres to the monument’s observation point and was taken into custody.

The woman had participated earlier in displaying a banner calling for abolishing the federal government’s chief immigration enforcement agency, said Jay W. Walker, an organiser with Rise and Resist, which arranged the demonstration.

The group initially tweeted that the climber had “no connection” to the demonstration.

Mr Walker later said she was involved but others had no idea she would make the climb, which was not part of the planned protest.

“We don’t know whether she had this planned before she ever got to Liberty Island or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” he said.

Regardless, he said he felt the publicity would help the group’s cause.

A spokesman for the National Park Service, which runs the monument, saw it differently.

“I feel really sorry for those visitors today” who had to leave or couldn’t come, spokesman Jerry Willis said. “People have the right to speak out. I don’t think they have the right to co-opt the Statue of Liberty to do it.”

The climber ascended from the observation point, Mr Willis said. Visitors were forced to leave Liberty Island hours before its normal 6.15 pm closing time, he said.

Earlier and farther below, at least six people were taken into custody after unfurling a banner that read “Abolish I.C.E.,” referring to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officers arrest and deport immigrants who are in the US illegally, among other duties.

Mr Willis said federal regulations prohibit hanging banners from the monument.

Rise and Resist opposes US president Donald Trump’s administration and advocates ending deportations and family separations at the US-Mexico border.

Under Mr Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, the government has begun requiring border agents to arrest and prosecute anyone caught entering the country illegally.

That resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents within six weeks this spring.

Under public pressure, Mr Trump later halted his policy of taking children from their detained parents.

A federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration late last month to reunite the more than 2,000 children with their parents in 30 days.

“Abolish ICE” has become a rallying cry at protests around the country and for some Democratic officials seeking to boost their progressive credentials. But Trump said on Twitter last week that abolishing ICE will “never happen!”

The Statue of Liberty has long been a welcoming symbol for immigrants and refugees coming to the US. It also has been a setting for protests and other activities that forced evacuations.

Last February, someone hung a banner reading “Refugees Welcome” from the observation deck. The sign was taken down about an hour after being discovered.

Press Association

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