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ICE officers came for a Tennessee man. His neighbors stepped in to stop them

Posted at 2:41 PM, Jul 23, 2019

HERMITAGE, Tenn. -- When US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers tried to take a Tennessee man into custody, the man's neighbors say they stepped in to stop the arrest.

Videos posted on Facebook and shared by CNN affiliates show a standoff outside Nashville that witnesses said lasted for hours.

It started early Monday morning when ICE officers followed a man's van and tried to pull it over, CNN affiliates WTVF and WZTV reported. After the van's driver pulled into the driveway of a house in Hermitage, Tennessee, the officers blocked him in.

The man remained inside the vehicle and alerted local advocates and neighbors, the affiliates said. A crowd gathered, with witnesses recording the tense scene on their cell phones and bringing supplies to the parked vehicle. Neighbors told the CNN affiliates they brought gasoline to keep the van running and food and water for the man and his 12-year-old son, who were holed up inside.

"While there were immigrant advocate community members present, it was clear that a major thrust of the citizen response was being driven by the immediate neighbors of the man and child in the van. ... It was striking to watch neighbors deliver food, water, and gasoline to help their neighbor stay in his car," Nashville City Council Bob Mendes said in a statement describing what he watched unfold.

ICE officers eventually decided to leave "to de-escalate the situation," ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told CNN. Cox said he wouldn't say "who the agency's target or targets may have been so as to not compromise a potential future operation that would seek to arrest the individual at a different time and place."

After the ICE officers left, neighbors and advocates formed a human chain leading from the van to the house to protect the man and his son as they left the vehicle, according to Veronica Salcedo, a reporter with Nashville Noticias who witnessed the chain's formation and shared a live video of the standoff on Facebook. The neighbors formed the chain because they feared ICE would return, Salcedo said.

Salcedo's video shows members of the group counting to 10 in Spanish and telling the boy inside the van to run for cover. He dashes out of the vehicle and bystanders erupt in cheers.

The group later formed a chain again around the man and his son, who weren't identified to the media, allowing them to get from the house to a car and drive away.

Neighbor Felishadae Young said she'd known the family for 14 years, and she came by to help because she didn't want to see the father separated from his son.

"I was real scared about what was going on," said Young in an interview posted on Facebook by CNN affiliate WZTV. "It put a lot of fear in me, because it could be me, it could be my family. It could be anybody. It could be your neighbors, just like it was my neighbor today. ... It changed a lot about how I feel about this country."

An escalating showdown over ICE arrests

The ICE agents had an administrative warrant, WTVF reported. Nashville police, who had been called in by ICE, said in its statement that ICE was "attempting to serve a detainer" on the man.

Advocates argue that ICE warrants aren't the same as the warrants other law enforcement agencies get judges to approve in court, because they aren't reviewed by an independent body and don't give agents authority to conduct searches inside homes or vehicles without consent.

With the threat of ICE arrests looming across the country in recent weeks, immigrant rights groups have been canvassing neighborhoods and advising undocumented immigrants on what they should do if ICE officers show up.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, acting ICE director Matthew Albence said it's impossible to quantify what impact such efforts have had on ICE's attempts to arrest undocumented immigrants.

"There are advocates, there are people in Congress who are sitting here, who are giving instructions to people illegally in the country and telling them how to avoid detection," he said. "There's no way to quantify what impact that had, but you couldn't turn on any TV station anywhere in this country for several weeks without this being the lead topic. "

Daniel Ayoade Yoon, a lawyer who said he witnessed Monday's standoff, said the ICE agents were "sort of bullying" the man, WTVF reported. "They were saying, 'If you don't come out, we're going to arrest you, we're going to arrest your 12-year-old son,' and that's just not legal, it's not the right law."

"We made sure they had water, they had food, we put gas back in the vehicle when they were getting low just to make sure they were OK," Young, the neighbor, told WTVF.

This isn't the first time advocates have tried to block ICE from detaining and potentially deporting someone. Results of such efforts have been mixed.

A video that went viral earlier this year showed a man in upstate New York arguing with ICE officers who attempted to stop the vehicle he was driving and detain the passengers inside. The man refused to open his car door and repeatedly told the officers the warrant they had wasn't signed by a judge. The officers eventually departed the scene, the agency said, "to avoid further disruption."

Last year, advocates in North Carolina surrounded an ICE van in North Carolina in an attempt to block the deportation of an undocumented immigrant who'd been living in sanctuary in a local church. Police eventually arrested 27 people that day, and the undocumented immigrant was deported days later. Some advocates faced obstruction charges.

On Monday, advocates and neighbors alike told CNN affiliates they wouldn't back down.

"I know they're gonna come back," Young said, " and when they come back, we're coming back."