Protesters Block International Tunnel Near Debate to Challenge Bipartisan Immigration Policy

Demonstrators briefly shut down a major thoroughfare between the U.S. and Canada near the site of the Democratic debate on Wednesday in protest of the country's immigration policies and the separation of migrant children from their parents.

A spokesperson for the immigrant rights group Cosecha, which organized the protest, told Newsweek that 21 people had been arrested. Detroit police did not immediately comment.

The protest, which took place in front of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, was the latest action organized by migrant rights group Cosecha to publicly raise objections with U.S. immigration policy. The activists were quickly arrested after sitting down to prevent access to the tunnel, which more than 1.4 million vehicles traveled on last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Last month, The Detroit Free Press reported that immigrants in Michigan are arrested by ICE at the 2nd-highest rate in the country with at least 100,000 undocumented individuals, citing statistics compiled by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The compilation reviewed arrests from the start of the 2017 fiscal year until May 2018, and found that 1,498 immigrants had been arrested.

BREAKING: 21 protestors just arrested outside the #DemDebate in Detroit blocking the international tunnel to Canada.

They are demanding presidential candidates address the decades-long crisis for undocumented immigrants and commit to ending all detention & deportation on day 1.

— Movimiento Cosecha (@CosechaMovement) July 31, 2019

A press release sent to Newsweek said that the activists were "demanding 2020 hopefuls recognize the daily crisis of family separation and deportation that immigrants in Detroit are facing."

The demonstrators challenged Democrats, who they say have participated in constructing problematic immigration policy long before Trump took office.

"Nearly every candidate has spoken out against the abuses immigrants are facing under the Trump Administration, but simply undoing the policies enacted by Trump is not enough," Brenda Valladares, a spokesperson for Cosecha, said in the press release. "For decades the Democratic party was complicit in a bipartisan attack on the immigrant community: While Republicans fanned the flames of white supremacy with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, President [Barack] Obama campaigned on the promise of immigration reform but ended up deporting almost 3 million people - a record in our country's history."

Cosecha activists rolled out their "Dignity 2020 campaign" earlier this month, calling for the Democratic candidate to end all detention and deportation of immigrants, legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country and commit to family reunification for individuals separated by detention and deportation.

Cosecha organizers have worked with Jewish activists to organize a series of protests at ICE facilities drawing historical parallels between the conditions of migrants in shelters and Jews during the Holocaust. Calling for ICE to be abolished, the attendees of these events have blocked access to ICE facilities in New Jersey and Boston and reportedly triggered a "lockdown condition" at the ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C. Earlier this month, Cosecha activists also protested in former Vice President Joe Biden's Philadelphia campaign headquarters calling for him to apologize for the immigration policy of the Obama administration.

Axios reported last month that, despite Trump's harsh often dehumanizing stance and incendiary rhetoric about immigrants, ICE has deported fewer immigrants each year than it did during the 2009-2011 fiscal years.

Last month, reports of unsanitary conditions in detention facilities renewed widespread outrage among the public. Recent news articles noted flu and lice have gone untreated. The DHS inspector general's report, released earlier this month, said that children were living in overcrowded cells, did not have always have access to showers and, in some facilities, had not been given a hot meal.

Federal court documents filed Tuesday showed that 900 migrant children at the southern border had been separated from their families in the year since Trump officially stopped the policy. Earlier this month, acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan said that separations were "rare."

"It is encouraging to see that some candidates are beginning to respond to the public outrage against deportation, detention and family separation with calls to decriminalize migration," Carlos Rojas, a Cosecha organizer, told Newsweek. But "none of of the candidates have gone far enough in addressing the daily crisis undocumented families are experiencing with the urgency it demands."

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration outside of the San Francisco office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on July in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images