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Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Two Midd students arrested at Never Again protest against ICE

Two Middlebury College students were among the 20 arrested at a protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Williston, Vt., last Sunday, July 28. Nico Plume ’19.5 and Alec Fleischer ’20.5 were cited for disorderly conduct during a demonstration in front of an ICE data center. 

Sunday’s march was part of the Never Again Action movement, which has inspired similar protests across the country. It began at Vermont Technical College and ended a mile away at the data center, where police estimated 1,000 protestors gathered for a rally. The data center receives tip calls and directs ICE officers nationwide. 

The event was organized in protest of the inhumane treatment of immigrants both at the Southern border of the U.S. and in Vermont. The protest was co-sponsored by 62 organizations statewide, including Middlebury’s Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG), Sunrise Middlebury and Middlebury RAISINS (Radical Asians).

Despite bouts of heavy rain and thunder, the rally shut down Harvest Lane outside the data center for over an hour. Attendees heard from speakers representing groups including Migrant Justice and Raíces Resistentes. They emphasized the importance of spotlighting the struggle against ICE that happens in Vermont, which shares a border with Canada and is home to migrant farmworkers at risk of deportation. 

Fleischer and Plume were cited, and then released. They were part of a group of protesters, clad all in white shirts, who blocked the entrance to the data center after the main protest and rally had ended.  

Fleischer declined to speak to The Campus, citing an agreement with his summer employer. Plume said he made a spur of the moment decision to join the group risking arrest.

“Two groups of us sat down and blocked the two driveways out of the ICE facility,” he said. “This had been pre-planned and thought out.” 

Alec Fleisher is arrested and cited.

Plume estimates they blocked the driveways for about 45 minutes, singing and chanting, before law enforcement officials exited the data center and told protestors they would issue three warnings before making arrests. Since the center is on federal property, an arrest carries a federal charge. 

Protesters then moved out of the driveway. One group stood to block the road. Plume stood next to them, debating his next move.

“I was on the sidewalk trying to figure out what I should do: enter the action and be arrested, or stay on the sidewalk and not face consequences,” he said. “I thought about what the arrest would result in, what it could cause.”

Ultimately, he chose to step into the road to take the place of other activists who had been arrested by Williston Police. He does not regret that decision. 

“If my body, my privileged, cis, heterosexual white male body, could extend that action for even five more minutes … if it could potentially stop one more illegal detainment or horror from occurring, it was worth it, no matter the consequences to me,” he said.

Leif Taranta ’20.5 also participated in the demonstration as a coordinator for the group that blocked Harvest Lane. They said their role was to help make decisions about the trajectory of the action, support those risking arrest and liaising with police. 

“It was an enormous honor to play this role and feel the trust of those putting their bodies on the line. I was so inspired by their bravery,” they said. “This action was incredibly important to me because I’m horrified by the treatment of immigrants and refugees and terrified by growing U.S. fascism. I wanted to do what I could to support a movement to abolish ICE and  move towards migrant justice.” 

Many other Middlebury students attended the march and rally, including Lucy Weiss ’20.5, who said she wanted to participate as an act of solidarity against racism in the U.S. immigration system.  

“Vermont is far from insulated from this national crisis of human rights abuses, and we must show up together to end it,” Weiss said.

She mentioned the three farm workers who were recently arrested and detained in Newport, Vt., and now face deportation: Ismael Mendez-Lopez, Mario Diaz-Aguilar and Ubertoni Aguilar-Montero. Among the protestors’ list of demands, which included shutting down border detention camps and reuniting families, they called for the workers’ release. 

Weiss also spoke about the importance of the Never Again Action movement, which was started earlier this summer by young Jews to highlight what they see as similarities between current immigration policies and the practices of  Nazi Germany.

Protesters march at Sunday's demonstration.

“The Never Again Action movement reinforces the ideals that I've grown up with as a Jew that we must never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” Weiss said.

She added that, as a white Jew, she feels a responsibility to use her privilege to stand up to the injustice she is witnessing. “My ancestors were persecuted for their identity, and today many people in this country I call home are being persecuted for theirs.”

Weiss called on other students to get involved with the protest movement. 

“This is only the beginning unless we all get involved,” Weiss said. “This is a very scary time, but if we all show up, we can enact tangible change.”

Plume expressed a similar sentiment. 

“The big issue is to get more people involved, and I think also to get everyone to collectively step out of their comfort zone,” he said. “Staying silent is being complicit. There’s a proverb that sticks in my mind: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is today.

“The best time to get involved was years ago; the second-best time is today.”