Well over two months after the raid on the illegal “mica” sellers who sold green cards, driver’s licenses and passports on Mission between 20th and 21st streets, not much has changed, according to local shopkeepers.
It was the largest raid that anyone on the block had ever seen: More than 100 police, Secret Service agents and staff from the district attorney’s office swarmed the block on January 20, ultimately arresting 10 men.
Of those 10, five are awaiting a preliminary hearing on April 8. The other five — no one is quite sure what happened to them.
Two of them may have been deported. Irene Lomeli, who works at the AT&T shop, heard that two of the men swept up in the raid were taken to San Bruno County jail, then put on a plane bound for Mexico City. She also heard that another vendor, who escaped arrest, decided to return to Mexico on his own.
A search of the Online Detainee Locator System on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website found matches for only two of the five missing men. One, Jose Gutierrez, is allegedly being held in a detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas. The other, Luis Esquivel, is listed as no longer in custody. It is unclear if he has been removed from or voluntarily departed the United States. The website defines “not in custody” thus:
The person has been released from ICE within the last 60 days for any of the following reasons: removed from or voluntarily deported from the United States, released from custody pending the outcome of their case, released into the United States due to the resolution of the immigration case, or transferred into the custody of another law enforcement or custodial agency.
Without the mica sellers the block has become much quieter, said Ram Patel as he hosed down the sidewalk in front of his store, Fashion Emporium. He no longer notices people on the street selling micas and marijuana. He doesn’t know how long the quiet will last. And he has bigger concerns — business is at an all-time low. The cleanup from the raid has not increased the number of customers on the street, as hoped. “We need more foot traffic,” Patel said.
Others are worried that gang violence, which has been absent from this block of Mission since the 1990s, will now return. Captain Ernie Ferando of the San Francisco Gang Task Force told Mission Loc@l in a 2008 interview that mica sellers typically pay local gangs a tax to “rent” the street corners where they do their business, and hire their own thugs — “enforcers” — to make sure the gang’s demands don’t get too outrageous.
Particularly worrisome to the shopkeepers at 20th and Mission is the violence that erupted a little over a month after the raid, when the appearance of Sureño graffiti at 19th and Bryant, an area that has historically been Norteño territory, escalated into four shootings and two stabbings in the district.
“I feel 100 percent less safe now,” said Alicia Chin, owner of Wholesale Fashion Shoes. She has seen three people get jumped across the street since the raid, and now always has an employee walk her to her car when she leaves the shop after dark.
“Now I am not sure who is coming — if they are good people. At least then we knew they were safe and good people.”
The raid was good in some ways, said a man working at the pawnshop Best Collateral, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Juan. It’s a widely held belief that people leaving pawnshops are targeted by thieves who think they might have a large sum of cash on them.
For that reason, the presence of mica sellers outside of Best Collateral often made customers nervous. But to Juan the mica sellers were street regulars, and they made him feel more safe. “They helped protect against theft,” he said. Last year a customer tried to steal a bracelet worth $12,000. The sellers ran after the thief, caught him and brought the bracelet back.
Several merchants said that a new group of mica sellers have appeared. The newcomers are younger men, according to other shopkeepers, and much less friendly. They’ve moved off to the side streets that intersect with Mission, out of the direct path of the police foot patrol that makes a circuit on Mission between 16th and 24th. “Now they are very hidden,” said Irene Lomeli. “I don’t know who they are.”
To some shopkeepers, the return to business as usual so soon after the raid is baffling. “We all see it happen in front of our noses,” said another woman, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Why don’t the police see it?”