Fearing the “slow creep of fascism,” several residents urged Missoula County commissioners on Wednesday to deny two federal agencies access to the county’s mountaintop radio facilities.
The request comes one day after county staff encouraged commissioners to gather more information before allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol to use certain towers.
Local members of the Democratic Socialists of American and Montanans for Immigrant Justice urged the county to deny the agencies’ request.
“We can’t even fathom why the county is even entertaining the request,” said DSA member Andi Hoelzel. “It represents the creep of fascism into our society. Parts of Montana don’t have cellular service, so it seems clear this is a way to target immigrants in some of our rural areas. We absolutely cannot have this.”
County staff this week encouraged commissioners to develop a more formal policy on how the mountaintop facilities are used, saying the number of requests continues to grow.
The county has made loose agreements with other groups wanting to use the sites, so long as they’re government agencies or nonprofit organizations. But now some fear that ICE and CBP could use the sites for controversial work around immigration under the Trump administration.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Boarder Patrol have moved beyond the realm of an enforcement agency into the realm of fascism,” said DSA member Josh Decker. “Our community needs to combat that wherever possible and not enable it.”
The county owns several concrete bunkers that contain radio equipment for public safety communications, including the Pierce Lake repeater near Seeley Lake, the Miller Peak repeater, Mount Sentinel, Point 118 up Highway 12, Point 6 above Snowbowl, and the Ellis repeater.
ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol have asked for permission to install equipment at the county’s Point 6 facility and to use the T-1 microwave on Miller Peak. But the request makes Leticia Romero nervous.
“These two agencies are directly responsible for tearing sons and daughters away from the arms of their parents,” said Romero. “I want you to think about that as you embark on this process of enabling these agencies to do more of that. Listen to the people.”
The proposed agreement between the county and ICE also has Nereyda Calero on edge. She was brought into the U.S. when she was 8 as an undocumented Mexican immigrant and was granted status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during the Obama administration.
While she currently works at a local hospital, she still fears for her safety under the Trump administration’s hard line on immigration.
“I have two citizen children who are very scared. They’re not allowed to open the door if they don’t know who it is,” said Calero. “We cannot terrorize our kids anymore. My kids are the same as your kids.”
Commissioners are expected to meet with ICE in the coming weeks and pledged to clearly note the meeting on its administrative agenda. It wasn’t immediately known how much federal funding, if any, went to construct the radio sites, or if the county would be penalized for denying access to federal law enforcement.
“It will be clear that the topic of discussion is a meeting with ICE,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.