Therese “Patricia” Okoumou, the New Yorker who protested U.S. immigration policy on July 4 by climbing the Statue of Liberty, faces up to 18 months in federal prison after being found guilty on all three misdemeanor charges brought against her.
Okoumou was found guilty of trespassing, interference with government agency functions, and disorderly conduct on Monday at Manhattan Federal Court, reports the New York Daily News (h/t Huffington Post). She pleaded not guilty, defending her protest in front of Federal Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein.
“Unfortunately, as long as our children are being placed in cages my moral values call for me to do something about it,” Okoumou testified before the court.
Okoumou, a Congo-born naturalized U.S. citizen who lives on Staten Island, has been vocal about her opposition to Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy since her high-profile protest—and arrest—at the feet of Lady Liberty.
While the Trump administration has ostensibly backed down from their policy of forcibly separating migrant parents and guardians from their children at the U.S./Mexico border, many of the most horrific facets of the White House’s hardline policy against Latinx migrants still exist.
Almost 15,000 children are being housed in detention centers—some of them tent cities—which are at or near capacity. And conditions at these centers have alarmed many immigrant rights and civil rights advocates, especially following the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, of dehydration and shock while she was in the custody of the Border Patrol.
The prosecution argued that Okoumou’s intentions were inconsequential to the case, no matter how noble they were.
“She knew that what she was doing was wrong and illegal,” argued Assistant United States Attorney Brett Kalikow in his opening statement, stating further that Okoumou’s actions put people, including first-responders, at risk.
But Okoumou told reporters after the hearing she has no regrets about her protest.
“While migrant children who simply came to this country, like our ancestors did, to seek happiness, freedom and liberation. Instead of welcoming them like Lady Liberty symbolizes, instead of treating them with kindness, what we showed them is cages. So if I go in a cage with them, I am on the right side of history,” Okoumou said outside the courthouse, according to the Guardian.
Okoumou is scheduled to be sentenced on March 5.