U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents pick-ed up a Berkeley family around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, during what immigration authorities called routine targeted enforcement action, and took all four family members to the Office of Detention and Removal Opera-tions in San Francisco for questioning.
The family was released later that afternoon but will have to appear in immigration court in the future for a hearing, their lawyer said.
The incident sparked protest among local immigrant groups and advocates and prompted the Berkeley Unified School District to send out a telephone message advising parents not to panic after rumors started circulating that ICE agents were rounding up students in Berkeley and Oakland schools.
“It has come to our attention that the Immigration Department has picked up at least one Latino family,” the recorded telephone message from district Superintendent Bill Huyett said.
“As a result several parents have called in concerned about their children being picked up by the immigration department. I can assure you that the school district will not allow any child to be taken away from the school. If you are concerned about your child walking home from school, please call the school and notify staff that either you or someone else is going to pick them up. If your child takes the bus home, you may wish to meet them at their regular bus stop. The Berkeley school district will work with you to keep your children as safe as possible.”
Huyett also instructed families to call 644-6504 with any questions.
Several calls to the Planet Tuesday afternoon reported that ICE agents had been spotted on the Berkeley High School campus and at some elementary schools which provide bilingual instruction to students.
District spokesperson Mark Coplan told the Planet that ICE agents had not been on the high school grounds but had been seen around campus.
“We got a call from the Berkeley Organizing Congregation for Action (BOCA) this morning telling us that one family had been arrested in Berkeley by ICE and there was a possibility of the team coming into the Berkeley schools to look for students,” he said. “So the superintendent wanted to alert the schools. We contacted all the principals and told them not to allow any federal officer access into the schools but to alert the superintendent first. However, nobody showed up.”
ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice told the Planet the agency team had not visited any schools.
“ICE agents are aware of the sensitivity connected with conducting searches at schools, churches and mosques,” she said. “It requires clearance at a very high level.”
Berkeley High School students joined the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) on the steps of the Berkeley Unified headquarters at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way Wednesday to protest ICE’s actions.
“We want the Berkeley School Board, the mayor and the City Council to declare Berkeley schools official sanctuary zones for immigrant students and their families,” said Yvette Felarca, Martin Luther King Elementary school teacher and BAMN organizer.
Felarca read from a statement by a SF State University student—the son of one of the women ICE arrested Tuesday.
“I am really disappointed by the assault that occurred at my apartment building yesterday in the morning,” the statement said. “We were literally taken out of our beds by the immigration officers as if we were some kind of criminals.”
The young man criticized the officers for lying about their intentions to visit his house and for turning their immigration status into a joke.
“They said stuff like: ‘We need to take everyone because this is like a family plan!’ and ‘You’ll get your green cards! This is like a Fast Pass to get your papers!’” his letter said, adding that the officers had threatened his family with jail.
Wearing brown armbands to express solidarity for immigrants, a group of Berkeley students chanted “They say go back, we say fight back.”
“We are tired of these raids,” said freshman Marnee Causey. “The fact that they were by all our school openings is sickening.”
Student Ashley Turner said teachers drove immigrant students home to protect them and that Latino students were warned not to step off campus for lunch.
“It was terrible,” said Caloe Nager. “We didn’t know what was going on. But our principal Jim Slemp supported us 100 percent.”
BAMN will be marching from St. Joseph’s the Worker Church—which has a high percentage of Latino families within its congregation—on May 18 in support of immigrants.
ICE vans were also spotted near Stonehurst Elementary in Oakland and Nystrom Elementary in Richmond Tuesday morning, according to a BAMN spokesperson. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and school board members came to Nystrom at the end of the school day Tuesday with immigration rights advocates.
State Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, condemned the incidents and asked for “an immediate freeze on ICE raids directed at schoolchildren while legislation aiming to fix immigration is considered,” in a statement.
Immigration rights attorney Mark Silverman, who represents the Berkeley family being detained, said ICE agents had stopped a woman who was driving her husband to the BART station and asked to see their licenses.
“The couple didn’t have them so the officers took them back home and asked them if they had immigration status,” Silverman said in a phone interview to the Planet. “When they said no, the officers asked their daughter and her cousin, who had come over with some food. None of them was able to provide any documentation and were taken to the detention center. My big question was why they were stopped. As far as I know they did not commit any traffic violation. If that’s true, then it was a violation of their Fourth Amendment constitutional rights, which gives us the means to fight against their deportation.”
Kice said the individuals had been arrested at their home.
“Typically we endeavor to arrest individuals at residences,” she said. “In that way, we can ensure the safety of our officers and reduce third-party involvement. We don’t usually do traffic stops, but I will check on that.”
Silverman said the family members were fingerprinted for prior criminal records and released after they were found to be innocent.
“From what the couple told me, the officers did ask them if they knew such and such person,” Silverman said.
Kice said members of ICE’s Fugitive Operations team—responsible for identifying, locating and arresting individuals who have been ordered deported by an immigration judge and have ignored orders—had a warrant for a local’s arrest when they encountered the family of four. Kice said the family was from Mexico.
BOCA Director Andy McCombs criticized the incident.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “ICE is putting fear into the whole Latino community. They did not have any arrest warrants or anything.”
The team also arrested one immigration fugitive from Barbados in Oakland, making the total number of arrests from the Bay Area up to five, according to Kice.
“The arrest of the family was not in any way related to last week’s enforcement on restaurants,” she said, referring to the raid on 11 taquerias in the Bay Area on Friday.
There are five Fugitive Operations Teams in California, including two in the Bay Area. Kice said that the team had arrested 846 people between Oct. 1 and Feb. 15, of whom 612 had outstanding orders for deportation and 152 had prior criminal records in addition to having ignored deportation orders.
A resolution passed by the Berkeley City Council in 1971 directs the Berkeley Police Department not to participate or collaborate with ICE.
“We cannot impede them, block them or stop them, but we don’t have to participate,” said Julie Sinai, Chief of Staff to Mayor Tom Bates.
BOCA lead organizer Belen Pulido, who went over to the family’s house while they were being questioned, said the team had stayed at the house for almost 40 minutes.
“I asked them why they were taking the family, and the officers said they didn’t have their immigration papers,” she said. “I am concerned about the father, he is old and the ICE agents separated him from the women.”
Silverman said the family seemed to be in good condition at the detention center.
“Today’s arrests are the first in a while,” he told the Planet on Tuesday. “There was similar activity in the start of 2007 in Alameda and Contra Costa County, but I haven’t seen anything like this in six to seven months.”