Protesters rally outside Louisville's new federal immigration court

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The day after President Donald Trump declared the death of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a new immigration court opened in Louisville, sparking protests before it ever saw a case.

Crowds rallied at the corner of South Third Street and West Broadway on Monday, chanting slogans such as, "ICE Court, no! Justice, yes!" and "The deportation machine is not the American dream!"

Previously, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) cases from Kentucky and Indiana were handled via video conferencing with a judge in Chicago. Now, everything from undocumented immigrants to those seeking asylum will be handled in a local court.

"Judges here will be making decisions that are life-or-death decisions," one of the protesters said.

Demonstrators like 17-year-old Andrea Brito hoped their message echoed all the way up to the 11th floor of the Heyburn Building, home to a newly created federal immigration court in Louisville.

Supporters of the court, the 61st of its kind in the U.S., point out that it will mean that cases will be processed more efficiently, but for Brito, it brings uncertainty and fear.

"So many families are being separated," Brito said. "I am about to go to college, and I'm still afraid of what's going to happen to my friends and family. That shouldn't be the case, so that's why I'm here."

The group is concerned the court will streamline deportations in an environment where the president has made his feelings on immigration clear.

"Glaring loopholes in our laws have allowed criminals and gang members to break into our country," President Trump said in a White House video released last month.

Kentucky and Indiana fall into a six-state region for ICE enforcement managed out of Illinois. Other states include Missouri, Wisconsin and Kansas. As policies change, the numbers show the impact on people. In 2014, President Barack Obama expanded DACA, and deportations dropped more than 60 percent in that region over the following two years. After President Trump took office in 2017, removals went from approximately 2,300 people in 2016 to 5,300 in the following year. 

"The establishment of an immigration court in Louisville will increase the productivity and efficiency of the immigration court system," said Amanda St. Jean, Spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review. "As is the case with all of our immigration courts, (it) will protect the due process of respondents whose cases are being adjudicated.”

The split between opinions in the country became evident in the midst of Monday's demonstration. Passing cars honked with drivers shouting "go home" as they rolled down the street. Passerby Belinda Priest even engaged in a verbal altercation with Brito. Priest said her mother immigrated legally from Germany, as did her ex-husband of Iranian decent. 

"If they could have just walked across the water and gotten a green card, it would have been a lot faster and a lot cheaper," said Priest.

Brito, a 17-year old, St. Frances School student said she is a U.S. citizen, though she worries about her family and friends being deported.

"I'm tired of people of European dissent telling my community to go when a lot of us have native blood in us," Brito said. "Fair and humane policies that's all we want." 

Estimates say there are roughly 50,000 undocumented immigrants living in Kentucky. 

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