Dozens of federal agents were deployed in Bend, Oregon, late Wednesday after protesters stood for hours to block the path of buses that held two people who had been seized by immigration agents, according to witnesses and videos from the scene.
The federal officers came to the scene of the protest, a hotel parking lot, in helmets and tactical gear, said Barb Campbell, a member of the Bend City Council. Using crowd-control devices such as pepper spray, the officers were able to work their way through the crowd, remove the detainees from one of the buses and take them away, she said.
The effort to block the buses began Wednesday morning when Luke Richter, president of activist group Central Oregon Peacekeepers, heard from a friend that officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were operating in the city. He was able to find two unmarked buses and decided to block their path while livestreaming video from the scene.
Others later joined the effort, including Campbell, who parked her vehicle and set up a lawn chair in front of one of the buses. As the day wore on, hundreds of protesters gathered. Richter said he was overwhelmed by the response from the community.
“They are not welcome here,” Richter said of the federal agents.
Janet Sarai Llerandi Gonzalez, who leads a local support organization for Latinos called Mecca Bend, said children of the men were at the scene pleading with bus drivers to let them go. When the federal agents arrived to remove the men, she said family members were violently tossed to the side.
“This is something that perhaps we never thought would happen in our community,” Llerandi Gonzalez said.
It was not immediately clear why the men were detained. In a statement, ICE accused the men of having a “history of criminal violent behavior.”
“While ICE respects the rights of people to voice their opinion peacefully, that does not include interfering with their federal law enforcement duties,” the statement said.
Campbell said that if the men had committed crimes, the city’s Police Department and district attorney could handle it without the involvement of federal officers. Bend is a community of about 100,000 people in central Oregon — a few hours drive from Portland.
The district attorney in Deschutes County, John Hummel, said he went to the scene Wednesday to better understand what was transpiring but could not get answers from federal officials about who had been picked up and why. Hummel said that as the crowd grew into the hundreds, he worked with the governor’s office to try and talk with federal officials about how to bring things to a calm resolution.
Instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, he said, the federal officials on scene said they were calling in reinforcements from Portland and Seattle to try and reclaim the detainees.
“I hope that if the federal government is going to come in with full tactical gear and weaponry like they did that it’s because all options short of violence have been exhausted,” Hummel said. “To go to force as the first option was disheartening.”
Officials in Oregon have repeatedly expressed frustration with the tactics of federal law enforcement officers during protests this summer, especially over the handling of demonstrations around a federal courthouse in Portland, which often involved the use of tear gas and other heavy-handed crowd control measures.
Lawyers from the Portland-based Innovation Law Lab have filed a motion in federal court to block the deportation of the Bend detainees.