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Man challenges city over ICE facility

It’s almost 2,000 miles from here to the southern border, but a local man argued Wednesday in a confrontational presentation before City Council that Altoona has a closer connection with — and more responsibility for — the allegedly inhumane treatment of migrants there than most area residents here can probably imagine.

Council members didn’t seem to buy Derek Hoagland’s idea.

Since 2017, Altoona has been home to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Armory Operations center, a barbed-wire protected facility on Chestnut Avenue near Juniata Gap Road that “handles the acquisition, testing, issuance and maintenance of all ICE-owned firearms, law enforcement equipment and ammunition,” according to a news release from March of that year cited by Hoagland.

Actually, the Chestnut Avenue facility has been linked to immigration since July 1, 1994, when the then Immigration and Naturalization Service, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, took over the recently closed U.S. Naval Reserve Center and turned it into a weapons repair facility, Mirror archives show.

ICE was formed — and the Immigration and Naturalization Service creased to exist — in 2003 as part of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hoagland said the equipment coming through the Altoona facility is critical to ICE being able to do the kinds of things that have earned the Trump administration wide condemnation, based on media reports, including children separated from parents and kept in uncomfortable, unsanitary centers where they have slept on concrete floors with lights on around the clock, eating microwaveable food that wasn’t microwaved and without soap or toothpaste.

There were also reports of sexual abuse, he said.

What if it was your child, Hoagland asked rhetorically.

He first discussed the matter a year ago with Mayor Matt Pacifico, Hoagland said.

“What has Mayor Matt Pacifico done?” he asked rhetorically.

Pacifico didn’t comment.

Councilman Erik Cagle said he supports the presence of the ICE facility here, although “not the acts” for which the Trump administration has been criticized.

“I agree,” said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

But Hoagland’s attempt to “make that connection (that Altoona bears responsibility for the treatment of migrants) is complete nonsense,” Butterbaugh stated.

Hoagland, 27, who grew up in Bedford, was raised to be compassionate, he said after the meeting.

When he found out about the ICE facility here, “it was jarring,” he said.

Altoona has “options” it could exercise to get on the right side of the issue, he said.

If nothing else, the city could set up a perpetual sidewalk repair in front of the facility to create an irritant, said Hoagland, who made his presentation as an individual, not as a representative of a group.

As a parting gesture, Hoagland deposited a grocery bag full of Hot Pockets, frozen vegetables and frozen macaroni and cheese on a desk in front of Council Chambers — microwaveable meals that hadn’t been microwaved.

“I live here, and if I do nothing, I feel I would in some way be responsible,” he said. “I was raised to not tolerate things that are wrong.”

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