In emergency demonstration, hundreds protest northern Calif. ICE sweeps
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Hundreds of spirited demonstrators marched, chanted and blocked streets surrounding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters here Feb. 28, to protest ICE’s detention of more than 150 people in northern California, in raids that began on Sunday, Feb. 25.

The four-hours-long nonviolent protest was marked by pickets marching around the ICE building, nonviolent blockage of nearby streets, and human chains in which demonstrators locked arms through steel barrels.

Demonstrators spanned the area’s broad spectrum of racial and ethnic groups. They came from housing, community and labor as well as immigrant rights organizations. Young people made up a large part of the crowd.

Rally speakers told heartbreaking stories of parents torn away from their small children, and families cut off from loved ones suffering chronic health conditions. Many arrests reportedly took place under false pretenses, including ICE agents posing as local police officers, or under circumstances sure to traumatize families still further, as when a father was picked up while dropping his child off at school.

Francisco Juarez told how his son, Jesus Manuel, was arrested in November, taken to an unmarked vehicle and held in handcuffs for hours before ICE agents took him to a processing center.  Juarez said his son was never read his rights, even in the processing center. “Jesus has four children, and they are very, very affected by not having their father with them.”

Diana Flores, from San Francisco’s Dolores Street Community Services, told the crowd, “We today have to stand up very clearly in our hearts and minds that what is happening does not match our humanity … Let us not convince ourselves that some people deserve to be picked up. No one deserves to be separated from their families; no one deserves to be intimidated.”

A panel of attorneys volunteering their services to aid detainees reported they had met with ICE officials who told them detainees had not been brought to San Francisco because of the protest action, but instead were taken to Stockton, over 80 miles away, where authorities refused to tell them immigration lawyers were trying to reach them.

Rally speakers also expressed outrage at the U.S. Supreme Court’s Feb. 27 decision that people held in immigration detention, even for long periods of time, are not entitled to periodic bail hearings.

The ICE actions came in the wake of a warning by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who issued a press release Saturday evening saying she had been informed by “multiple credible sources” that ICE raids would start in the following 24 hours.

“As mayor of Oakland,” Schaaf said, “I am sharing this information publicly not to panic our residents but to protect them … and I know that Oakland is safer when we share information, encourage community awareness, and care for our neighbors.” She urged those who might be affected to seek information on their rights, from immigrant rights organizations like Centro Legal de la Raza.

ICE later slapped back at Schaaf, saying that while most U.S. cities cooperate with their actions, “others force ICE to assign additional resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the general public and the aliens at greater risk and increasing the incidence of collateral arrests.”

Calling the mayor’s warning “reckless,” Acting ICE director Thomas Homan said that as a result, ICE had been unable to locate over 800 undocumented criminals.

Like many cities and counties in California, Oakland is a sanctuary city. California itself is a sanctuary state, having last year passed a package of far-reaching laws to protect the rights of immigrants, including Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which bars state and local law enforcement from using their resources to investigate or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.

State law also bars landlords from using tenants’ immigration status to harass them, and states that employers must require proper court documents before letting immigration agents enter a workplace or obtain workers’ records.

A broad spectrum of immigrant and civil rights organizations issued statements this week condemning the raids and calling for upholding the rights of immigrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California said, “Contrary to statements provided by ICE, agents are aggressively intimidating families in their homes and using tactics of racial profiling to detain people in public spaces” and “terrorizing people of color.”

“In all its immigration enforcement activities,” the ACLU said, “ICE must abide by the U.S. Constitution which guarantees basic rights to everyone in the United States … Together we must resist this blatant racism. We need strong families, not families torn apart by deportation. We need communities that trust each other, not communities living in fear of police every second of the day.”

And the Power, Not Panic Emergency Response Committee, a coalition of over two dozen immigrant rights, civil rights, community and faith-based organizations said, “As community, civil rights, and legal organizations, we stand together to demand an immediate halt to politically motivated abuses of power.” They added, “We are deeply troubled by the federal government’s threats against local policies that protect families and defend civil rights. We decry the awful, xenophobic agenda at play, and the trauma raids induce in communities of color … We call for full protection of all people’s constitutional rights to due process.”


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.