Some 60 protesters crowded the sidewalk outside the San Francisco headquarters of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday morning to call attention to recent nationwide raids by the agency. Organizers said there have been no confirmed raids in San Francisco, and the immigration agency say there have been no arrests anywhere in California in connection with recent raids. Nonetheless, immigrants and their advocates are worried about enforcement activity.
“They don’t care if when they deport you they leave your family, leave yours kids without [a father], they’re just doing their job,” said Ernesto Reinoso, an asylum-seeker who was detained for six months before winning his case. He was joined by a handful of other recent immigrants, most asylum-seekers from Central America who spoke to the dangers of being sent back to their home countries.
“My family and I were threatened with our lives and now we are afraid of returning to our countries,” said Marvin Franco, an asylum-seeker from El Salvador. “I want to tell President Obama today to not deport us. If today I go to my country, tomorrow I will be killed.”
The rally, organized by several immigrant and faith groups, was held on Three Kings’ Day, a Catholic holiday that celebrates the visit of the three wise men to Jesus after his birth. Between shouts in Spanish “Without papers, without fear” and “Not one more deportation,” some speakers compared the treatment of Jesus then to that of immigrants now.
“Today, ICE is our King Herod,” said Reverend Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, drawing parallels between the enforcement agency and the king who sought to kill Jesus. She was joined by Sheila Chung Hagen, an aide to Supervisor David Campos, who asked, “What would the three kings have given to these [immigrant] families?”
“We’ve seen more than 1 million Syrian refugees received in Europe…and yet here we are today mourning the loss of so many families that were deported this weekend by the Obama administration,” Chung Hagen continued.
The Washington Post reported just before Christmas that a new series of immigration raids targeting nearly 100,000 people would begin in the new year, aimed mostly at Central American immigrants with final deportation orders.
According to the Post, some 121 people who had lost their asylum pleas were arrested over the weekend in the first of these raids, triggering condemnation from immigration advocates and some Democratic congressmen, as well as the rally Wednesday morning.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said no arrests were made in California in connection with these raids.
“The operation that transpired last weekend in other parts of the country ended Sunday, and there were no arrests in California,” wrote an agency spokesperson via email. “There are no special enforcement actions currently underway in the Bay Area…We’re a law enforcement agency [and] we make criminal and administrative arrests every day.”
Those at the rally, however, connected the raids to what they called a feeling of terror in the immigrant community of San Francisco.
“Maybe they’re in other states, but that means there is terror in our streets, in San Francisco, in San Jose, in Los Angeles,” said Supervisor John Avalos, the representative of the Excelsior. He connected the recent wave of migrants from Central America to actions by the United States in the region in the 1980s, and said the same people affected then are now being targeted for deportation. “Now they want to deport the very people who have made a life here.”
“I came here to denounce the Obama administration,” Avalos continued. “This is not moving the nation forward. This will only cause pain and suffering.”
Supervisor David Campos, who was not at the rally but spoke to the issue over the phone, condemned the Obama administration for the raids and urged the administration to focus on passing “comprehensive immigration reform” instead of conducting a crackdown.
“It’s pretty scary that something like this could go on, and that it’s Barack Obama of all people pushing for it,” Campos said. He said this action would only serve to “solidify Obama’s record as Deporter-in-Chief,” and said he hoped the immigration agency would not conduct raids in San Francisco or the Mission District.
“We don’t need ICE to come into a neighborhood like the Mission and be as destructive as they have been in the past,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misattribute the King Herod quote to Niloufar Khonsari. It was said by Reverend Deborah Lee.