In this image made from television news video by PIX11, a person, right, lies under the right foot of New York’s Statue of Liberty as police officers, left, work to convince the climber to descend, Wednesday, July 4, 2018. Shortly before the climber scaled the statue’s base, forcing its evacuation on the Fourth of July, several people who hung a banner from the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal calling for abolishing the federal government’s chief immigration enforcement agency were arrested. (PIX11 via AP)

Protester’s climb shuts down Statue of Liberty on July 4

A woman was protesting the separation of immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally

A protest against U.S. immigration policy forced the evacuation of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July, with a group unfurling a banner from the pedestal and a woman holding police at bay for hours after she climbed the base and sat by the statue’s robes.

The woman and at least a half-dozen demonstrators who displayed the banner were arrested, while the climb forced thousands of visitors to leave the iconic American symbol on the nation’s birthday.

About 100 feet (30 metres) aboveground, the woman engaged in a four-hour standoff with police before two officers climbed up to the base and went over to her. With the dramatic scene unfolding on live television, she and the officers edged carefully around the statue toward a ladder, and she climbed down about 25 feet (8 metres) to the monument’s observation point and was taken into custody.

RELATED: Family separation policy starts dividing Republicans

The woman, Therese Okoumou, told police she was protesting the separation of immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, according to a federal official who was briefed on what happened but wasn’t authorized to discuss it and spoke on the condition of anonymity. A message left at a possible phone number for Okoumou wasn’t immediately returned.

The climber was among about 40 demonstrators who earlier unfurled a banner calling for abolishing the federal government’s chief immigration enforcement agency, said Jay W. Walker, an organizer with Rise and Resist, which arranged the demonstration.

Walker said the other demonstrators had no idea the woman would make the ascent, which wasn’t part of the planned protest.

“We don’t know whether she had this planned before she ever got to Liberty Island or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Walker said.

Regardless, he said he felt the publicity would help the group’s cause.

A spokesman for the National Park Service, which runs the monument, saw it differently.

“I feel really sorry for those visitors today” who had to leave or couldn’t come, spokesman Jerry Willis said. “People have the right to speak out. I don’t think they have the right to co-opt the Statue of Liberty to do it.”

RELATED: Separated families must be reunited within 30 days

The climber ascended from the observation point, Willis said. Visitors were forced to leave Liberty Island hours before its normal 6:15 p.m. closing time, he said.

Earlier and farther below, at least six people were taken into custody after unfurling a banner that read “Abolish I.C.E.,” referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officers arrest and deport immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, among other duties.

Willis said federal regulations prohibit hanging banners from the monument.

Rise and Resist opposes President Donald Trump’s administration and advocates ending deportations and family separations at the border.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the president’s immigration policy is a step forward for public safety.

Under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, the government has begun requiring border agents to arrest and prosecute anyone caught entering the country illegally. That resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents within six weeks this spring.

Under public pressure, Trump later halted his policy of taking children from their detained parents. A federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration late last month to reunite the more than 2,000 children with their parents in 30 days.

“Abolish ICE” has become a rallying cry at protests around the country and for some Democratic officeholders seeking to boost their progressive credentials. But Trump, a Republican, said on Twitter last week that abolishing ICE will “never happen!”

The Statue of Liberty has long been a welcoming symbol for immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. It also has been a setting for protests and other actions that forced evacuations.

Last February, someone hung a banner reading “Refugees Welcome” from the observation deck. The sign was taken down about an hour after being discovered.

A year earlier, a West Virginia man was sentenced to time served after calling in a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of Liberty Island, sending 3,200 people on boats back to lower Manhattan and New Jersey.

In 2000, 12 people protesting the Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques for bombing exercises were arrested after a man climbed out on the spires of the statue’s crown and attached flags and banners to it.

And Jake Pearson, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

City crews rip out landscaping at Chilliwack park over-run with drug use

Homeless man says revamping the park will only put vulnerable people at further risk of overdose

Lower Mainland cools down as heat wave lifts

Environment Canada predicts temperatures in the mid to low 20s

Fraser Health launches new drug-use support team to curb overdoses

Nearly 200 people have been killed by illicit drug overdoses in the region so far in 2018

Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors try to up the karats on locals’ golden years

With almost two decades as a counsellor, Helene Long has helped hundreds of Chilliwack’s seniors

Accused in 2017 downtown Chilliwack murder set for preliminary inquiry in two weeks

Court appearance on July 17 to shorten length of hearing for Kirkland Russell and Victoria Purcell

Trudeau asks transport minister to tackle Greyhound’s western pullout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s asked Transport Minister Marc Garneau to find solutions in Greyhound Canada’s absence.

Banff’s bathroom bears returned to the park after 15 months of rehab in Ontario

Black bears, now yearlings, were sent to the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario last April

Monster trucks returning to Abbotsford

Monster Madness tour arriving in September

‘Recovery high schools,’ per diems urged to better manage addiction in B.C.

BC Centre for Substance Use says focus needs to shift to from overdose prevention to long-term care

More than $10,000 in Bitcoin paid in Richmond ransom scam

RCMP say victim transferred cash to Bitcoin ATM after being told partner had been abducted

Hells Angels celebrating 35th anniversary party on Vancouver Island

Additional police resources will be in Nanaimo this weekend as roughly 300 members and hang arounds are expected

New campaign aims to tide food waste at home

About 2.2 million tonnes of edible food is discarded in Canada every year

B.C. couple reunited with dog three years after disappearance

A purebred Pomeranian is back with his parents, likely after years in a puppy mill.

BC Nurses Union calls for decriminalization of opioids

BCNU president wants the federal government to do more to reduce preventable deaths

Most Read