In an effort to draw attention to the deportation of immigrants fleeing violence, in particular those from Central America, protesters blocked the intersections of Sansome Street with Washington and Jackson streets today. 16 protesters were arrested and later released. For several hours, protesters marched in circles around clusters of chained activists sitting in the intersections, situated in front of the San Francisco branch of the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kitzia Esteva, an organizer with Causa Justa::Just Cause, called the Mission a “hub” for Central American refugees and immigrants, a role she says it has played since the 1980s. At least two of those arrested at the protest work in the Mission.

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Esteva said her organization has seen several Mission residents being taken into custody as a result of raids on Central American families and the Priority Enforcement Program, a federal initiative targeting undocumented immigrants with a criminal record.

“Those raids leave no space for rehabilitation or real needs, and treat people like they’re disposable,” she said.

Frank Lara, a teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann in the Mission, said he has seen the effects of deportation efforts among his students. When word of a new wave of raids spread about two weeks ago, he said, parents stopped bringing their kids to school, and other children worried that their parents might be deported.

“It’s traumatizing,” he said.

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Lara called today’s protest a success, and noted that the willingness to be arrested sends a message.

“We showed not only ICE, but the police, that we’re not afraid to voice our opinions and get arrested for it,” Lara said. “We are training a new generation of activists to speak up and take action.”

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The 16 protesters who were later arrested seated themselves in the center of the two intersections, and had chained themselves together. Remaining protesters gathered around them, blocking traffic for several hours. Shortly after noon, some 30 police officers assembled, announced that the protest was unpermitted and that anyone who refused to get on the sidewalks away from the intersection would be arrested.

“I think it was important for us as to why the families that are coming and the minors that are coming are coming – not just because there’s violence in their country but because that violence was really created by the U.S. and the way that we intervened in Central America. Really, these families are owed reparations if nothing else,” Esteva said.

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The protest was a coordinated effort between two cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Immigrant advocates around the state organized the rallies to demand that officials end the practice of deporting refugee families back into violent conflicts in their home countries and recognize asylum seekers as refugees.

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