Nestor Ruiz paced the parking lot of the Humane Society, waiting to march next door to the Broward Transitional Facility, where hundreds who entered the country illegally await deportation.
The chain around one of his ankles rattled against the asphalt. Ropes hung from each of his wrists with clamps tied to them, the kind mountain climbers use. He seemed younger than his 21 years, gangly with stringy, long hair, and when he spoke, he sounded shy.
“I am here today to fight for everyone who could be deported any day,” he said Wednesday, surrounded by about 70 fellow protesters who came from South Florida and further afield in the state. One, Tim Eakins, even came from as far as Connecticut. They ranged in age from toddlers to middle-aged, but the vast majority appeared to be in their late teens and early 20s.
With this protest, the group hoped to draw attention to the plight of the people inside the facility. New rules that go into effect Sept. 22 may slow the deportation process for many immigrants who entered the country illegally. But that may be too late for the 500 to 700 people inside the Broward Transitional Facility.
When the group of protesters was ready, when the giant butterfly symbolizing migration had been pulled from the U-Haul truck and the mothers had all slathered their little children in sunscreen, they began to march down Powerline Road.
Ruiz and six others who had chains around their ankles led the way. They used the chains and ropes to tie themselves together at the gate.
When Ruiz was 12 years old, Immigration men came for his father in Tampa Bay. The man had received a ticket for driving without a license. He had paid it, and that had been it, until Ruiz woke up in the middle of the night to see flashlights streaming down the hallway.
“I was scared,” he remembered. “I saw the uniforms, so I knew they were some kind of authority, but that was it.”
The Immigration men took Ruiz's father, a Mexican native, to the Broward Transitional Facility, before deporting him. Ruiz never saw his father again.
That is why he chained himself to six other people and sat down in front of the gate leading into the facility. Five of the seven men and women all entered the country illegally as children, brought over by their parents. They call themselves Dreamers, after the Dream Act, proposed legislation that would allow people to become permanent residents if they came to the United States illegally as children but graduated high school here and either joined the military or went to college and were not arrested for any serious crimes.
Opponents say the Dream Act amounts to rewarding illegal behavior.
"Deportations should be an important deterrent to illegal immigration," said David Caulkett, the vice president of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. "Regarding the protestors' quest for President Obama to grant amnesty for the illegal alien detainees via executive order, President Obama clearly does not have the authority to give amnesty via executive order."
But for these children of parents who are also in the country illegally, even the Dream Act is not enough. They worry about mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who could be sent back at any time.
It was a humid day, and Ruiz, Eakins, 36; Maria Palacios, 19; Sheridan Aguirre, 20; Raymond Mendoza, 21; Yadira Dumet, 26; and Diego Ramirez, 18, all sat baking in the sun for hours. The rest of the protesters shouted encouragement, chanted slogans, held signs. Finally, the police came and told them to head back to the sidewalk, about 40 feet away.
They marched up and down the sidewalk with their signs while the seven chained men and women laid down in the street. The sun was cruel. Ruiz lay in the middle, three people chained to his left, three to his right. To his immediate right, Palacios sat up but her head hung to one side.
The 19-year-old Palacios had come from Tampa Bay like Ruiz. And like him, she had little to fear from deportation because of rules proposed by the Obama administration that mirrored the Dream Act. But she risked arrest for her mother, who brought her to America. And now, she looked as if she had little left in her.
The crowd back on the sidewalk shouted her name and sang. She lifted her head, started to sing back, and then curled back over. Ruiz lay on his back staring up at the sky, his arms extended to his sides, legs crossed at the ankles, like a slowly baking Dreamer Jesus.
The sheriff's deputies allowed one of the other protesters to cross the yellow tape and give water and wet washcloths to the seven.
“They understand they're going to get arrested; that's what they want,” said Capt. Robert Schnakenberg, chief of the BSO's Deerfield office. “But we want to make this as safe as possible.”
The captain was one of more than a dozen officers who trickled onto the scene in ones and twos. The deputies went out of their way to meet peaceful — if civilly disobedient — protests with friendly professionalism.
“We want to give them an opportunity to give these guys the opportunity to leave, because they'll be arrested if we have to cut them out,” said Sgt. Adam Rubin.
Finally, the Broward Sheriff's Field Force Unit, trained to deal with protesters in situations such as these, arrived and began cutting through the cables that attached one ankle chain to another before taking the group to the Broward Main Jail for processing. From back beyond the yellow tape, one of the protesters shouted through a bull horn, “We are all behind you! We love you! You have stopped the Broward Transitional Facility from deporting our brothers and sisters today.”
There were cheers from the crowd.