Just moments ago, dozens of undocumented immigrants and allies peacefully sat down in front of the San Francisco offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and blocked a bus filled with community members en route to deportation.
The action is occurring at 630 Sansome Street in San Francisco.
Today’s protest marks the expansion of a national movement to pressure the President to use his existing executive authority to halt painful deportations of immigrant community members – a move which will bolster efforts in Congress to win inclusive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented Americans.
“I’ve been in that bus before, and I remember how powerless I felt,” said Dean Santos, a local immigrant youth leader with the Asian/Pacific Islander organization ASPIRE who once faced deportation himself and spent days in a detention facility in Arizona. “Now, I’m coming back with the power of our communities in our effort to stop the separation of families.”
Faith leaders also joined the direct action. Father Richard Smith, Vicar of St. John the Evangelist, described the experience of one of his congregants who was deported:
“One night she was coming home from her night job at the hospital, and she was pulled over for a broken taillight. When she was booked her fingerprints were given to immigration, who then deported her. Her two little boys did not know where she had gone, she did not come home, she was not able to call them for ten days until she had landed in Mexico. It’s stories like these I hear over and over again in my neighborhood, and they break my heart… Jesus himself said whomever welcomes the stranger, the immigrant, welcomes Him,” said Fr. Smith, as he walked into the street alongside Alex Aldana, an undocuqueer demonstrator with East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition, and several others.
This demonstration is part of a trend of escalation in immigrant rights protests, such as the recent DREAM 9, or very recent DREAM 30. It is also one of a growing number of protests where demonstrators have peacefully stepped in front of deportation buses to stop them. These protests include the demonstration in Phoenix where DREAMers stopped a bus departing from an ICE station and the one in Tucson, where demonstrators stopped a bus at one protest, and shut down an immigration courthouse at another.
In fact, many of the same activists leading Thursday’s event are just returning from those groundbreaking protests in Arizona earlier this week.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is nearing the grime milestone of 2,000,000 deportations, and last year alone spent more than $18 billion on separating families, even as programs for seniors and wounded veterans were being cut. In response, both San Francisco and the State of California have recently passed landmark measures to limit deportations of hard-working immigrants and keep thousands of families together.
With the devastating toll each deportation takes, local immigrant rights activists are taking action before those measure even go into effect, while urging both the White House and Congress to immediately follow suit.
Undocumented immigrant activists block deportation bus
A group of young, undocumented immigrant activists temporarily halted a deportation bus from leaving downtown San Francisco on Oct. 17. The bus was parked outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices at 630 Sansome Street, where detainees are held during the day while they await court hearings.
They said they were inspired by recent actions in Arizona, and were putting themselves at risk to send a message to President Barack Obama that all deportations should be halted until federal immigration reform is in place.
Even though federal immigration police threatened them with felony charges if they did not allow the bus to pass, activists decided after an intense discussion to stay seated on the street where they were and continue their protest.
“We will do whatever is necessary for our community,” protester Alex Aldana said into a megaphone after the group huddled to discuss how to respond to the threat, adding that they would risk arrest.
They chanted “undocumented, unafraid,” and at one point even taped a hot pink sign to the front of the bus that read, “Shut Down ICE.” Supporters circled the bus in a procession, waving signs and chanting, until authorities set up a police line and told them that they would risk arrest if they did not move to the sidewalk. There were federal immigration officials as well as San Francisco police officers on the scene.
At one point, ICE officials told the activists that the protesters could be charged with felony false imprisonment if they did not get up and move. But in the end, federal officers merely escorted them away from the bus and released them on the sidewalk around the corner.
Organizations involved included the California Immigrant Policy Center, POWER, Causa Justa / Just Cause, the Asian Law Caucus, ASPIRE and others who are part of a coalition that has been focused on immigration reform.
“When they talked to me, they said they were going to arrest me,” said Emmanuel Valenciano, one of the activists who blocked the bus, after being released. He added that he had expected the San Francisco Police Department to take them into custody.
The passengers on the bus were not visible to protesters and bystanders, but Asian Law Caucus Staff Attorney Anoop Prasad had met with some of them earlier that day. They were from Russia, El Salvador, Ethiopia and other countries. Many had been swept into ICE custody after being identified via Secure Communities (S-Comm), an information-sharing program that links local law enforcement information with federal databases.
Some of the bus passengers were bound for the airport, where they would begin long deportation journeys. Others were headed back to ICE detention facilities throughout California, where they would remain while fighting their cases. All of the detainees had their hands and waists in shackles, Prasad said.
Once the protesters were escorted off the scene and released, the bus backed up and continued on its way.
Arizona: Immigration activists chain selves to buildings, buses
Posted: Oct 16, 2013, Updated: Oct 21, 2013
Frustrated by a lack of progress in Congress on immigration legislation, activists are demanding President Obama stop deporting all illegal immigrants — not just those who arrived here as children.
Only now, they’re using new tactics, chaining themselves to buses, jails and federal buildings to persuade lawmakers to let them stay.
In Tucson, Ariz., on Friday, protesters chained themselves to three buses that were deporting illegal immigrants as part of Operation Streamline, a program that prosecutes or deports every illegal immigrant caught at the border. The program is meant to prevent the revolving door that encourages illegal immigrants to re-enter the U.S. hours or days after their initial arrest near the same location.
“No one really sees what happens once people are picked up and how families are separated,” said a Phoenix protester. “This is something that happens every day, and it’s our mission to keep up the pressure because we’re already at too many deportations, and how much longer until the Obama administration does something about this immigration crisis?”
In Phoenix on Monday, 250 protesters also marched to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters, though the office was closed due to Columbus Day.
Obama has said he doesn’t favor a so-called “blanket amnesty” through executive action, but has instructed immigration control agencies not to break up families. Border Patrol sources tell Fox News it’s no surprise, then, they’re now seeing entire families — not just young men – busting the border in hopes of staying in the U.S.
Opponents say the administration is sending the wrong message.
“I say it isn’t enough to deport them all,” said Brandy Baron of Remember1986.com, which staged a counter-protest in Phoenix. “They knew when they came here illegally, they knew when they came here we have laws, and laws have consequences.”
The Phoenix march was just one incident that underscores the growing frustration of Hispanics and immigration reform advocates over the last few months. Congress appeared ready to pass a bill before the budget and debt-ceiling impasse took hold in Washington. Since then, all other legislation has come to a virtual standstill.
On Monday at the Eloy Detention Center, one of the country’s largest immigration jails, protesters chained themselves together in the entryway.
“I’m doing this to show my brother and all the other people inside that we support them and we will do what it takes to get them out,” 16-year-old Sandy Estrada of Phoenix told Not One More Deportation. ”I want the president to know that everyone deserves to be with their families and that he can stop our pain.”
Last week, Tucson police pepper-sprayed a crowd that had surrounded a pair of Border Patrol agents who took two illegal immigrants into custody after a traffic stop.
“President Obama is approaching 2 million deportations. That’s an all-time record,” said Phoenix protestor James Lyall of the ACLU. “So in addition to all the other stuff going on, this is something that affects our communities on a day-to-day basis.”
Immigration officials tell Fox News they are prepared to handle the disruptions and will make changes in handling deportations to avoid confrontations.