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Activists camp out in protest at Tampa's Homeland Security, ICE offices

TAMPA — The national movement to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency came to Tampa on Thursday night — and it's in tents.

Approximately 25 local activists gathered next to Cypress Drive in front of the local Department of Homeland Security and ICE office with cardboard signs, tents and determination to stay until their demands are met, organizers say.

"We are here because we are outraged," said Austin Halford, an organizer who stated his age was 15.

Five tents were lined up along the hedge, just on the inside of the sidewalk. A spray-painted tarp hung between the two largest tents, emblazoned with "FIGHT ICE WITH FIRE, ABOLITION NOW, #OCCUPYICETPA."

The activists, standing near the road, held up cardboard signs with the faces and names of immigrants who had been killed.

Organizer Sydney Eastman, 28, listed off the group's demands: end deportations to war-torn countries; local authorities dissolving a recent agreement to detain undocumented immigrants until federal officials can pick them up; transparent investigations into reports of criminal abuses by detainees; and the implementation of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission standard in all DHS and ICE detention facilities.

As the sun set and the occasional jogger cut through the protest, a Tampa Police Department officer sat in a parked car nearby. A DHS officer sat in a car in the parking lot. The five tents were buttressed up against the low-rise hedge — the demarcation between Tampa Police authority and the federal building's grounds.

"We're not doing anything illegal," Eastman said.

The protest was supported by an array of local organizations or members of them — Love Has No Borders, Restorative Justice Coalition, Tampa Food Not Bombs, Sex Worker Solidarity Network and Tampa Bay Democratic Socialists of America, according to a press release sent by organizers.

The coalition supports "freedom of movement, safe passage, the abolition of ICE and allies to Undocumented communities," according to the press release, which also cited a Pew Research Center study stating that Florida experienced the biggest increase in ICE arrests of any state in the United States last year.

About five of the activists planned to stay out there Thursday night, Eastman said. And their plans in the morning? "Hopefully someone will bring us coffee."

They are going to maintain the encampment until their demands are met, Eastman said.

"Or until we're removed by the state," Halford responded. "But that's not as optimistic."

Contact Bre Bradham at bbradham@tampabay.com or follow her at @brebradham.

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