This Saturday, a loosely organized coalition of individuals described as "unsettled and deeply concerned" with the course of American government plans to shut down ports of entry between the United States and Mexico to protest illegal immigration, demand the release of a Marine detained in Mexico, and express general concern about the direction in which the nation is headed.
The demonstration, which organizers had boldly billed "Shut Down All Ports of Entry" before downsizing their ambitions for the sake of efficacy, hopes to block 17 of the 63 ports of entry in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas that are listed on the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.
Stacyi Barth, a 41-year-old mother of three and former computer programmer who is spearheading the protest, told VICE News that the attempted shutdown comes in response to what she described as a "deep, widespread sentiment that the country is being lost."
"We're going to stay at the bridges until our demands are met," she said. "We have a Marine that has been wrongly imprisoned in Mexico and abandoned by the government. We need to bring him back to his mom and dad immediately. Second, we need to seal off the southern border."
Barth was referring to Andrew Tahmooressi, a former Marine sergeant who was detained in Mexico after crossing the border with three loaded weapons. His case has become a cause célèbre among those who fault the Obama administration for what they believe to be weak border security. The 25-year-old has been in the custody of Mexican authorities since March 31, when his Ford pickup truck took a controversial turn across the US-Mexico border into Tijuana.
Tahmooressi claims that he entered on accident. If convicted of illegally possessing guns and ammunition, he could be sentenced to as many as 14 years in prison.
Barth will lead a protest on Saturday at the San Ysidro border crossing south of San Diego, the same spot where Tahmooressi entered Mexico more than five months ago. If everything goes according to plan, protesters approaching the border on Interstate 5 will shut off their vehicles ("the bigger the better," Barth said) at 8 AM PST and block traffic.
"From what I've been told, law enforcement cannot tow a vehicle if you are in that vehicle," Barth said in a message posted to the event's Facebook page. Though it's not known how many people expect to participate, Barth and her collaborators believe they will have the numbers to carry out their plan.
While early press reports suggested that border militia groups were behind the plan to shut down southern ports of entry into the US, the organizers have called for a peaceful protest and are attempting to distance themselves from the militia groups known to informally patrol the US-Mexico border.
Barth hasn't seen fit to ask that protesters leave their firearms at home, however.
"I don't want an armed standoff," she told VICE News, "but if people want to come in civilian clothes in Texas, for example, where they are proud to carry firearms, I won't tell them not to. That's their right."
But the prospect of armed protesters airing grievances along the border alarms people like Israel Reyna, a lawyer and immigrant rights advocate with Rio Grande Legal Aid and a long-time resident of Laredo, Texas — the largest inland port of entry in the nation, and one of the 17 sites targeted by the protest. In 2012, more than 12 million vehicles crossed the border at Laredo.
"These patriot groups and militia, they come from outside and they don't come here as friends — they are foe," he told VICE News. "We don't want anyone toting a gun down here who is willing to shoot it according to their views."
Local law enforcement and federal agencies will be closely monitoring developments along the nearly 2,000-mile border on Saturday. In Texas, CBP officials are coordinating plans of action with local police departments.
"Customs and Border Protection has contingency plans ready to put into place in the event of any protest or a temporary blockage of traffic at our international bridges," Rick Pauza, the public affairs officer for CBP in southern Texas, said in a statement to VICE News. "Our primary concern is to ensure the safety of our officers and the traveling public."
If successful, Shut Down All Ports will have halted traffic on some of most important trade routes into the country.
Barth's group has noted that it doesn't intend to lift its obstruction until the US and Mexican governments accede to its "non-negotiable" demands, which include the unconditional release of Tahmooresi, sealing the border to illegal entrants by erecting an electrified fence, having Mexico pay for half of the cost of processing and returning illegal immigrants, and ending all US government assistance to those of them within the country.
"There are a lot of reasons for us to do what we are doing. It's our duty to enforce laws that our government won't," Barth said. "A lot of Americans don't recognize their country anymore, and it's our job as 'We the People' to get this done."
She and her fellow organizers are scrambling to coordinate meeting points and plans of action while tending their toll-free hotline — "the next available patriot will answer your call" — and informing protesters of their rights as Americans.
Meanwhile, residents like Reyna hope that the group's attempt at civil disobedience falls flat.
"They come to Laredo because the border is symbolic and because they will get more media attention," he said. "But they won't get any support from people down here."
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