CENTERVILLE — About two dozen protesters chained themselves Thursday to the doors and to each other inside a Davis County business that is a contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As of noon, about 15 of the protesters had voluntarily left Management & Training Corp., 500 N. Marketplace Drive, after being contacted by officers, and eight had been arrested for investigation of trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to Centerville police.
"We do encourage people to protest where they want to protest, other than private property," said Centerville Police Lt. Zan Robison. "They need to do it in a legal place. Our First Amendment right is something we all enjoy, we encourage them to do that, but it needs to be done in a legal place."
Taylor Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the protesters, said they were holding their demonstration against Management & Training Corp. for its "involvement with prisons for profit, as well as immigrant detention."
"We are protesting the criminalization, deportation and destruction of our communities by this corporation. … We wanted to stop business as usual. We wanted to show how important this was to us by asking arrest and risking our freedoms," Goldstein said.
Goldstein claimed the protesters weren't officially part of any group, calling the demonstration "a very organic movement." But she also said "we would invite people to follow us" at Facebook page ICE Free SLC, which published several posts about the event Thursday morning that included livestream videos of the protesters.
In a statement Thursday, Management & Training Corp. spokesman Issa Arnita said the company "would have been happy to meet with these individuals to talk about the work we do for ICE so they had a full understanding."
"Instead, the protesters came and refused to comply with police to leave private property," Arnita said. "The group is advocating to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which they have the right to do. But they don't have the right to break the law."
Arnita went on to say that the three detention centers the company operates for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement do not hold minors.
"While our hearts go out to anyone separated from their family because of policy that had since been reversed, we have no authority or say in these matters," he said. "It would be more effective for these protesters to write their elected officials or take their concerns to ICE directly. We are only a contractor for ICE."
Arnita said that the company's detention facilities ensure "that the detainees are treated with great care, respect and dignity."
The protest was first reported about 7:45 a.m. Robison said the protest temporarily prevented some people in the office building from leaving, but that affected workers were inside areas requiring a key card to get in and were considered safe.
The protesters were "rather peaceful" and didn't make any physical threats, Robison said, though they were "verbally aggressive" toward some of the people in the building.
Detention centers criticized
A press release on the ICE Free SLC Facebook page said the purpose of the protest was "to highlight the private prison contractor in our own backyard profiting from the detention, deportation, and ultimate separation of immigrant families."
The release also accused Management & Training Corp. of being "profiteers" who "cut corners" in a way that harms people kept at their facilities.
Arnita said the facilities operated by the company provide "a clean, safe environment where (detainees) have access to all the services they need including health care, legal resources, and contact with family and friends."
Besides its three ICE detention centers, Management & Training Corp. also operates 21 corrections facilities across the United States. Protesters' press release criticized the company for recently identifying Evanston, Wyoming, as a possible site for a fourth ICE detention center to add to facilities it already operates in New Mexico, Texas and California.
Arnita said the company recently identified the location in response to a tentative federal request from contractors about possible additional sites for detention centers.
When asked, Arnita said "there could be" parents who were recently separated from their children at the border as part of a controversial and recently nixed Trump administration policy who are staying at one or more of Management & Training Corp.'s detention facilities.
"We just have nothing to do with the administrations' policies, which change from time to time. … (ICE decides) who they move, where (detainees) move, when they move," he said.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said in a statement to the Deseret News that the agency "fully respects the constitutional rights of all people to peacefully express their opinions," but would continue its "enforcement mission consistent with federal law and agency policy."
Contributing: Peter Samore
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Issa Arnita as the spokeswoman for Management & Training Corp. Issa is the company's spokesman.