Hundreds of students and activists from all over the Bay Area marched from Ferry Park near the Embarcadero to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in downtown San Francisco Friday to protest what they called atrocities committed against undocumented immigrants by code enforcement officials in sanctuary cities.
Dressed up as ghouls, ghosts and goblins, the marchers said they were skipping Halloween festivities to show their solidarity toward all immigrants, and they demanded that the ICE detention center in San Francisco—a sanctuary city—be shut down immediately.
ICE raids on immigrant families, including one in Berkeley, were reported this past summer, leading to vehement protests from immigrant groups and advocates.
“We are here as a coalition to take a stand against sanctuary cities not being respected,” said Aurora Castellanos, a freshman from UC Berkeley who was one of the organizers of the rally.
“Elections are coming up. We want to make sure our next president is looking at immigration issues,” said Castellanos, a graduate of the Oakland Unified School District, who said she has been organizing for causes related to justice and equality for the last three years. “We want to make sure our families are safe and that our lives are not being threatened. It’s really unfair, trying to scare high school students. We want to make sure sanctuary cities are respecting immigrants. It’s not about documents, it’s about being safe. We haven’t done anything wrong so far. The only thing we did wrong was contribute to the economy.”
Rumors about ICE vans circulating outside Berkeley—also a sanctuary city—and Oakland public schools in June to pick up immigrant students were dismissed by ICE officials at that time, who said that immigration authorities were mindful of the sensitivity surrounding enforcement actions near educational institutions.
Some demonstrators spoke of heightened raids in the past few weeks and told stories about people who had been picked up from their homes and were now facing charges for deportation in detention centers all over the state.
ICE spokesperson Lori Haley acknowledged that raids on undocumented immigrants had increased in the past few months but added that, in the absence of immigration reform by the Congress, ICE officials would continue to enforce the law.
“Sanctuary cities don’t have anything to do with the laws federal law enforcement officers have taken on a responsibility to enforce without bias to race, gender, religion or country of origin,” she said.
“Our mandate is protection of national security and public safety, and we work to restore the integrity of the country’s deportation system. All undocumented immigrants have access to due process and a right to fight their deportation before an immigration judge, failing which they will be sent back to their country.”
Terrence Valen, director of the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco, said he was at the rally to show support for Filipinos, Latinos, Africans and Arabs who were being unfairly targeted by ICE police and separated from their families.
“Just yesterday a father was picked up from his house in Pacifica and separated from his wife and two children,” he said. “They took him away to Yuba County, which makes it all the more difficult for our attorneys to fight.”
Valen added that authorities were gradually treating San Francisco less and less like a sanctuary city.
“They are backing off from their promise,” he said. “We are pushing for municipal IDs in San Francisco, so that people have access to services in the city and can report crime without fear. It gives them an opportunity to be safe even if they don’t have documents.”
Miguel Astudillo, who works with La Voz Latina, a housing project in the Tenderloin, said police officers were stopping immigrant families at traffic checkpoints for parking violations and demanding to see their paperwork.
The march, which started from Drumm Street, snaked down Sansome Street, coming to a halt in front of the ICE headquarters at 630 Sansome St., which was being heavily guarded by officers from the San Francisco Police Department.
Six Native American drummers from D-Q University—a tribal college in Davis—inaugurated the march with some tribal beats.
“We are humans, not illegals. Stop the raids,” the marchers chanted, as people came out of stores and offices to watch them.
Ixel Chavez, an administrative assistant at UC Berkeley, said she had joined the march after learning that her friend’s mother and brother had been deported from Sacramento Thursday to Tijuana.
“That’s one reason,” she said. “The other reason is this is just injustice. They need to look at the roots and causes of why so many people are crossing the border. Is it famine, poverty, war? U.S. foreign policy is causing people to make these choices. We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us.”
A group of students from Richmond High School stood watching as two Aztec dancers lit frankincense and performed a dance titled “mother tierra” in front of the ICE building.
Norma Bautista, a junior at the school, said 30 students had walked out of their classrooms to fight for their families’ rights.
“I have Latino parents who are undocumented,” she said. “And we are living in fear. We don’t know when they will be taken away. I was born here but my brother, my grandmother and my cousins are all from Mexico.”
Bautista’s friend, Beatriz Dominguez, a first-generation Mexican-American, said she woke up one morning to find her father gone.
“They took my dad away,” she said, blinking away her tears. “He just wasn’t there anymore. That’s why I am here today to make my voice heard, for my family and for all the students who couldn’t be here because they were afraid of ICE.”