Activists Protest Immigration Raids
March 4, 2007 8:44 PM
A week of San Francisco immigration protests culminated Friday when a crowd of protestors marched outside the Federal Building and shouted their support to 17 demonstrators who were being arrested outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.
Local activists had been protesting since Monday against recent raids being performed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials as part of Operation Return to Sender, launched last June. New immigration legislation is expected to go before Congress next week, prompting the protests’ timing.
About 200 people met outside the Mission & 16th Street BART station and started marching to the Federal Building around noon on Friday. Many wore green bandanas around their heads or arms to symbolize the financial contribution immigration workers make to the country.
“Many immigrants came here as refugees, from countries where they feared the police,” said Jose Carlos, who marched with a megaphone in hand. “And now they’re being terrorized by police here,” he said.
The protestors marched up Mission St and then Van Ness St, with a few pushing churro carts around the crowd. A pair of three year old boys walked with their mother up front, carrying signs that read, “I’m an economic refugee thanks to U.S. foreign policy.”
When the crowd reached the Federal Building, they ran into a smaller group of about 15 men protesting U.S. support of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. They let the smaller group speak for a few minutes, cheered, and then began shouting, “Si, se puede!” which means, “Yes, we can,” in Spanish.
Meanwhile, 17 of the protest's organizers met with Pelosi's district director, Dan Bernal, and laid out three demands: that Pelosi take active leadership to put a stop to the ICE raids, push immigration reform through Congress, and demand that federal agents respect San Francisco's sanctuary law and stay out of the city.
"They said they would look into it," said Renee Saucedo of La Raza Centro Legal, Inc., who attended the meeting. "So we all stood outside the office and chanted for about five minutes, and then we got arrested." She was given a citation for federal trespass and released shortly thereafter.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said that the call for arrest had not come from Pelosi's office, and that other tenants share that floor. He said the speaker is concerned about the details of the ICE raids, and supports comprehensive immigration reform.
The activists allege a variety of ICE abuses.
"Kids are scared to go to school because they don't know if their parents will still be around when they get out," said Diana Wu of the National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights.
She spoke of reports that ICE officials have gone into apartment buildings with a warrant for a single address, but checked every resident of those buildings. She also said there are reports of people walking home from work and being arrested without warrants.
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said the arrests are not “raids,” and are targeted specifically to individuals who have been convicted in immigration court and ordered to leave the country. While in an apartment making an arrest, she said, an official may question other residents in that apartment, and that establishing legal residence can be done simply in conversation with the officers.
Operation Return to Sender has resulted in over 18,000 arrests nationwide since last June. Between October and January, over 800 people were arrested in the San Francisco area, about 500 of whom were actual immigration fugitives, Haley said.
ICE was created in 2003 by the Department of Homeland Security “to more effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws and to protect the United States against terrorist attacks. ICE does this by targeting illegal immigrants: the people, money and materials that support terrorism and other criminal activities,” according to the agency’s website.
San Francisco has a number of protections in place for immigrants, known as the city’s “sanctuary law,” under which city funds may not be used to enforce federal immigration law.
The San Francisco Police Department issued a press release February 13, reaffirming that “Members of the San Francisco Police Department do not enforce immigration laws and do not assist any other agency in enforcing immigration laws,” and that members of the SFPD may not stop or question individuals on the basis of their actual or perceived immigration status.
“These raids jeopardize the public health and safety of the city by instilling fear in those who may come forward to report information about a crime or those who are in need of medical treatment,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a recent statement.
Wu said that the legislation reform the protestors demand includes an end to militarization at U.S. borders, action to work through the backlog of immigration applicants, and no new guest worker programs.
“Liberals have been pushing the guest worker plan as a ‘path to citizenship,’ but really those plans are just allowing people to work under extremely vulnerable circumstances,” said Michael Lyon, a member of San Francisco’s Gray Panthers. “Under these programs, workers can’t strike. If they try to organize, they can be deported. So [those plans are] no better than what we have now.”
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