For two years Lupita has tried, unsuccessfully, to cure her daughter’s illness. The girl, a shy seven-year-old who wears her long silky hair with a pale pink ribbon, suffers chronic stomach pains and headaches. “I have brought her to therapy and can’t find anything,” said Lupita.
The distress began on a spring morning before sunrise, when nine immigration officers raided their Daly City apartment. They were looking for Lupita’s husband, who was at work. Wanting to end his family’s trauma, he turned himself in, and was soon returned to Guatemala, the country he had left 18 years before. “We never received a deportation letter,” Lupita recalled with tears welling in her eyes.
Now living in San Francisco with no relatives except her daughter and five-year-old son, Lupita lives in fear of another knock at the door. “Who will care for my children if they arrest me?”
Since the federal raids at 17 San Francisco homes last month, many immigrants harbor similar fears. On a recent Saturday, dozens gathered at Parque Niños Unidos in the Mission District to denounce the raids and learn how to protect themselves. Despite San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city, the surge in raids means that undocumented immigrants no longer consider their home a safe refuge.
“A lot of people are confused,” said Lupita, “because they say it is a sanctuary city. But it is not.”
She wants others to learn from her experience. She wants others to know that it’s not just the “migra,” or immigration officials, that Latinos must be wary of, but anyone wearing a badge. The authorities Lupita opened the door for, she said, claimed to be police.
Now Lupita takes no chances. When she takes her children to school, the little ones walk out the door first and scan the street for police cars before their mother steps outside.
Nora, a Mexican immigrant who lives on Treasure Island, said the raids have led to discussions with her three children about the federal immigration crackdown. “They know not to open the door if someone knocks,” she said. “Even though it is sad to have to explain what happens if I am deported, it is something I have to do.”
At the youth-centered event organized by the grassroots group, POWER, no child was too young for a lesson on immigration policy. With face painting on their cheeks, toddlers to preteens sat in front of the ivy-covered veranda, comprising a rapt audience for the political entertainment.
When immigrant-rights superheroes took the stage in shiny capes, the young audience shouted that they too wanted to fight for immigrant rights. When an adult asked who the criminals really are, a confident girl answered into the microphone, “Migra!”
And when it came time for the piñata—decorated as a black and white police car wrapped in yellow caution tape—kids ran to form a line, eager to take a swing.
Beatriz Herrera of POWER led a workshop informing parents about the latest developments affecting local immigrants, including increased raids, and the recent change to the city’s juvenile probation policy to refer suspected undocumented youth to ICE.
She said she is disappointed in Mayor Gavin Newsom. In the past, Herrera said, the mayor has denounced raids, but he remained silent this fall. She thinks the change has to do with his possible plans to run for governor. “We feel that this is what he has to do—turn his back on the immigration community in order to get the votes to win,” she said.
The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Herrera says POWER has invited the mayor to attend a town hall meeting that community organizers are planning in December. Asked if he has reserved a seat, Herrera paused to think. “Um, I’m not sure about that. But,” she was quick to add, “we’ll have it regardless of whether he comes.”
The meeting is planned for December 10.