Protesters gathered at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office in downtown Billings Tuesday to memorialize one month since a man who entered the country illegally was arrested and detained.
Audemio Orozco-Ramirez has been sitting in a cell in Aurora, Colorado, away from his wife and children, awaiting a deportation proceeding.
The father of eight entered the country illegally in 1999 and was working on a ranch near Circle, Montana until he was arrested in August at a monthly check-in appointment with ICE officials.
So at a quarter past nine Tuesday morning, a half dozen protesters stood on a corner holding neon green and white signs that read things like, "families are our fabric" and "love your neighbor."
Ten more protesters were inside inquiring with security as to whether they were allowed to go through the metal detectors and up a few flights of stairs to deliver a letter to officials in the ICE office, requesting a meeting with the group Sanctuary Rising. They are a faith-based group who are concerned about immigrants and refugees in Montana.
But security told protesters and YPR that ICE officials were not in the building.
“And it seems kind of odd that immigrations and customs enforcement sets his appointment at 9 o’clock on the first Tuesday of the month, and now they’re not there going forward,” says Reverend Mike Mulberry, a Lutheran pastor in town.
He’s holding a box of donuts under one arm that he says building security wouldn’t accept due to their work policies. His other arm is cradling a stack of papers, including that letter he was hoping to deliver to ICE officials.
Mulberry says that he feels deceived by ICE officials, who told him that advanced warning would be given to Orozco-Ramirez, his family, and his friends, if he were to be detained. But they didn’t. Orozco-Ramirez was arrested and detained without notice at his last meeting, exactly one month ago.
Pastor Stacey Siebrasse, who’s a member of Sanctuary Rising, says she believes the way immigration is presently handled in the U.S. goes against “all that God stands for.”
“You know, the Bible is an excellent resource for us in terms of how we are to treat our neighbor and love our neighbor, including immigrants and those fleeing to safer environments and communities. I just really believe God is in the midst of all this, wanting us to speak out,” said Siebrasse.
Amy Aguirre was also at the protest Tuesday morning. She met Orozco-Ramirez after he was released from ICE custody in late 2013, after he allegedly endured a sexual assault while he was detained.
"I miss Audemio of course, and when I speak to his wife and kids, their hearts are breaking every day.”
Orozco-Ramirez was first arrested during a routine traffic stop in 2013 when he couldn’t prove to police he had entered the country legally. With no previous criminal record, he was arrested again last month without the advance warning that protesters say was promised by Billings ICE officials.
“And I think our major concern is that what our government has become is a government that is for a select few, and not for the rest of the people,” said Mulberry. “Orozco-Ramirez is not a bad hombre.”
Mulberry asked building security if he could instead deliver the letter to Senator Tester’s office down the hall, after learning ICE officials were not in the building. But Tester’s staff would not accept the letter.
Tester’s State Press Secretary, Luke Jackson, says in a statement released to YPR today:
"This is an ongoing legal matter and Jon is aware of the situation.”
ICE officials would not return YPR’s requests for comment. But that’s not surprising to Aguirre.
“It’s like the wall has already gone up,” says Aguirre.
And when I asked her why, she says, "they're keeping us out."
“They’re keeping their select, elite few within; those of us who are trying to share our stories, and share our voices, are being held out—kept out,” says Aguirre. “It’s like we’re the victims, too.”