Statue of Liberty climber guilty of trespassing for immigration protest

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty’s stone pedestal to protest U.S. immigration policy declared in federal court on Monday she would do it again to call attention to the plight of families separated at the border and was found guilty of trespassing.

Therese Okoumou, Statue of Liberty climber, is seen at the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, was also convicted of interfering with governmental administration and disorderly conduct before a U.S. magistrate judge in New York City.

Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail, according to Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York. Okoumou, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who the New York Daily News said became a U.S. citizen in 2016, remains free pending her sentencing on March 5, Biase said.

In a statement announcing the guilty verdict, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Okoumou’s actions “went well beyond peaceable protest.”

“It was a crime that put people at grave risk,” Berman said, calling her conduct “dangerous and reckless.”

Okoumou was arrested on July 4 after she scaled the base of the statue and began a three-hour standoff with police that led to the evacuation of the landmark in the midst of the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

She and her lawyer later said her act of civil disobedience was primarily a demonstration against the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from parents who were caught crossing the U.S. border illegally.

Administration officials said the policy was needed to secure the border, but it was ended in June after images of separated youngsters held in cage-like detention facilities sparked a furor both at home and abroad.

Testifying in her own defense on Monday, Okoumou was asked by her attorney, Ron Kuby, whether she would repeat her protest under the same circumstances. She answered, “Yes.”

“As long as our children are being placed in cages, my moral values call for me to do something about it,” she said in court, according to Kuby and the Daily News account.

Reporting by New York bureau staff; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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