Two ICE agents who attempted to detain a man in Nashville's Hermitage neighborhood early on Monday morning "came to the wrong community," according to one of the neighbors who helped form a human chain to prevent the arrest.
The community woke up to the sight of the immigration officials, who had reportedly been circling the neighborhood for weeks in an unmarked vehicle, threatening to arrest the 14-year resident when he tried to leave his home with his 12-year-old son.
Neighbors immediately sprang to action, surrounding the man's car and advising him and the boy to stay inside the vehicle while the ICE agents informed them they had an "administrative order" granting them permission to make an arrest—but not a warrant, according to an attorney who arrived at the scene—and reportedly tried to bribe the man with a cash reward if he came with them.
Eventually, the neighbors formed a human chain around the car and leading up to the family's house to made sure they could safely get inside.
VIDEO: “Human Chain In Hermitage”
Watch neighbors form a HUMAN CHAIN in Hermitage yesterday to protect a father and son from ICE and allow them to get from the van they were trapped in for hours into their house.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) July 23, 2019
During the four-hour standoff as the father and son were barricaded in their car, residents from across the neighborhood brought sandwiches for the two to eat as well as gas for the vehicle so the pair could keep the air conditioning on in the hot weather.
"We stuck together like neighbors are supposed to do," one resident, Felishadae Young, told WZTV, a local Fox affiliate.
An ICE public information officer told reporters that most people arrested by the agency have criminal records, but according to the Washington Post there were no active warrants for the man's arrest or evidence from the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) that he had a criminal record.
"Everybody got mad and was like, 'They don't do nothing, they don't bother nobody, you haven't got no complaints from them. Police have never been called over there. All they do is work and take care of their family and take care of the community,'" another neighbor, Angela Glass, told Nashville Public Radio.
On social media, immigrant rights advocates applauded the community.
Good neighbors make good fences... especially in #Nashville
"ICE agents back down in Nashville after neighbors, activists link arms to help man, boy avoid feds" - @ComunidadesU @Univision32 @RobertGehrke @CCSUT @donMiguelSLC @CrisDaza11 @blcklvsmatut
- https://t.co/3O4PlJFJcx pic.twitter.com/DzEEf295yh
— ACLU of Utah (@acluutah) July 23, 2019
Amid the horror of this -- the ICE officers *beseiged* this family, trapping them in a van for 4 hours, lying to them the whole while -- there is humanity. Neighbors helping neighbors. Standing up to these thugs. #AbolishICE https://t.co/hyghmOqt7k
— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) July 23, 2019
Officers from the Metro Nashville Police Department arrived at the scene, but did not provide assistance to the ICE agents. But the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) said after the incident that the presence of police officers who were not intervening on behalf of the family and the community made the situation more dangerous for the family and the neighborhood.
"The MNPD vehicles added to a climate of intimidation as the ICE officers attempted to apprehend the individuals," said TIRRC. "There have been reports that ICE agents even used their presence as a direct threat to the man, saying that if he didn’t comply with their requests to leave his vehicle, MNPD officers would arrest him. When immigrant community members and their families associate local police with federal immigration enforcement, they are less likely to report being a victim or a witness to a crime—making the whole community less safe."
The police department "must re-establish trust by enacting and publicizing policies that draw a bright line between their work to protect and serve Nashvillians and the work of federal immigration officials and refuse to help ICE carry out civil immigration enforcement in Davidson County, in any capacity," the group added.
The community members formed the human chain as the ICE agents retreated following the four-hour standoff. Another chain was formed later as the family, including the man's wife, left their home and drove away.
TIRRC praised the Hermitage community for its show of solidarity with the family.
“They came to the wrong community on the wrong day..”
Nashville showed what’s possible in an organized community: immigrant families can exercise their rights and their neighbors can help them to defend their rights. https://t.co/oGTvB4fn65
— TIRRC (@tnimmigrant) July 23, 2019
Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of TIRRC, tweeted that she was "in awe of the fierce response in Nashville today by the family, their loving neighbors, committed and trained organizers, and accountable elected officials."
"The only secure community is an organized community," she added.
"What happened this morning shows how deeply rooted immigrants are in our community," the group wrote on its website. "Neighbors reported that they were worried and outraged because some had known the family for more than a decade. One neighbor shared that their children often played together."
As one neighbor told the Nashville Scene, ICE "came to the wrong community on the wrong day."