Woman climbs base of Statue of Liberty to protest Trump's immigration policy

NEW YORK: An immigrant woman who scaled up the stone pedestal of the iconic Statue of Liberty to protest President Donald Trump's controversial "zero tolerance" immigration policy has been arrested after a three hour-long standoff with the police amid US' Independence Day celebrations.

The 44-year-old woman identified as Therese Patricia Okoumou, an immigrant from Democratic Republic of the Congo staged the dramatic protest against Trump's tough immigration policy that has separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents and guardians and placed into holding facilities between April 19 and May 31 of this year.

The controversial decision however has been reversed by President Trump through an executive order following widespread protests against the move.

Okoumou climbed up to the base of the Statue of Liberty late afternoon yesterday leading, law enforcement officials to order evacuation of the Liberty Island on a day when thousands of visitors and tourists flock to the island where the Statue is located to see one of the most iconic symbols of America and its immigration history.

At first authorities tried to talk the woman down but she refused to leave.

For nearly three hours, she sat at the base of the statue, sometimes sitting in the folds of the statue's dress and under Lady Liberty's sandal. The woman was part of a group of protesters and had declared that she wouldn't come down until "all the children are released," a source with the New York Police Department told media.

About 16 officers with the New York City Police Department took part in the risky rescue/apprehension effort, Officer Brian Glacken said in a news conference Wednesday evening.

"At first, she wasn't friendly with us, but we took the time to get a rapport with her so that took a while," said Glacken. "She just kind of mentioned the kids in Texas. I guess the whole debate that's going on about that. In the beginning, she threatened to push us off, push the ladder off, but we stayed with her," Glacken added.

Finally, officers with ropes and climbing gear reached her.

"At first she was being a little combative, then she was willing to cooperate with us. She actually apologized to us for having to go up and get her," Glacken told reporters.

The protest group Rise and Resist said in a statement that Okoumou's decision to climb the statue was made independently of the group, without consulting any other member of the group.

"We understand and share her desire to see the immediate release of children from detention and reunion with their parents. We hope that her legal representation will arrange for her release under her own recognizance."

The US Parks Police evacuated the island as a precaution as they tried to bring her down.

Parks workers also cordoned off the base of the statue with chairs to prevent anyone from getting close, witnesses said. Officers had to put up a harness and ropes on her to bring her down, and she crossed to the other side of the statue with the officers where a ladder was propped up on the base of the statue.

National Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis said the woman was in federal custody Wednesday evening and will be transported to a US Marshals office in Manhattan. According to media, Park police have recommended charges to the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, including trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with government functions.

Earlier, other protesters unfurled a banner over a railing around the base of the statue saying "Abolish ICE!" At least seven people were arrested on Liberty Island and the site was closed to visitors.

Jay W Walker, an organiser and board member of Rise and Resist, told media the theme of the protest was that Lady Liberty is weeping over the unconstitutional excesses of ICE under the Trump administration.

"We thought we wanted to do something on our Independence Day, a day that obviously is meant for reflection on the ideals on which this nation was founded. This country has posited itself as a beacon. Right now, we have a government that is actively turning its back on those ideals," Walker said.

The Statue of Liberty, standing 93 meters from the tip of its torch to the ground, is a gift from the people of France to the people of the US.

The statue has become a worldwide symbol of the American values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

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