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Eighteen people were arrested Friday after a group of immigrant rights activists gathered downtown and stopped two buses, with 70 suspected undocumented immigrants, heading to federal court for Operation Streamline deportation proceedings.
Protesters blocked the westbound Interstate 10 frontage road near 18th Street at about 8 a.m., stopping the two buses in the roadway.
Then 12 people used their bodies to prevent the buses from moving. Three people used restraints at each of the front tires of the buses. They encircled the bus tires with their bodies and cylindrical tubes with their arms inside. Other protesters held signs denouncing Operation Streamline, the federal criminal court that expedites deportation proceedings. The proceedings occur regularly and involve dozens of suspected undocumented immigrants at a time.
"Operation Streamline is the deportation and criminalization of 70 migrants that happens in Tucson every Friday. We've been frustrated with it for a long time, it finally came time to do something," protester Michelle Raygada said, as she sat on the roadway blocking one of the bus tires.
"We're in front of the wheels of this bus not intending to move until we make sure that Operation Streamline won't happen for the day," she said.
During the protest, which ended at about 1 p.m., Tucson police closed the section of the Interstate 10 frontage road where the buses were stopped.
At about 11:30 a.m., officers with Tucson Police Department's rapid response team moved toward the scene of the protest with generators and power tools to saw off the PVC and other material the protestors used encircle the bus tires.
Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said 12 of those arrested were the people encircling the bus tires. Six others were arrested for participating in initially stopping the buses, he said. Those arrested range in age from 21 to 68.
All of them are charged with the felony crime of hindering prosecution of the 70 suspected undocumented immigrants in the buses, Villasenor said.
The department responded with about 70 officers at the protest site.
"Because of so many on-duty resources being brought into the area to deal with this, our calls started to back up in the rest of the city," Villasenor said.
He also reiterated an opinion he has shared widely, that immigration enforcement laws pit the department against the community and require city resources.
"We are absolutely in a difficult place but we are going to continue to enforce the law and follow the rules," he said.
Operation Streamline 'represents the worst criminalization of immigrants," according to a press release from Coalicion de Derechos Humanos.
Another group of activists chained themselves in front of the Tucson federal courthouse parking lot. Some time after noon, they decided to unchain themselves to end the protest.
Protestors said they’ve been planning the action for a while.
“I’m here in solidarity with all the people on this bus to stop Operation Streamline for the day,” one of the protestors, Michelle Raygada, told Arizona Public Media.
Streamline hearings were cancelled for the rest of the day.