Immigration advocates and public defenders from San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and Alameda Counties gathered in front of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice Monday to condemn arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers outside California courthouses in the past two weeks.
“We’re not gonna put up with you anymore,” said attorney Renee Saucedo from the Graton Day Labor Center regarding the ICE arrests. “You’re a bunch of immoral people and we don’t want you.”
On March 3, Alberto Uc Ponce, 43, was arrested by ICE agents only steps away from the site of today’s press conference while on his way to a court hearing. He is currently incarcerated in an ICE Detention Center in Bakersfield, according to his lawyer, Emi Maclean.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Uc Ponce said in a message read by Maclean. “What happened to me should not happen to anyone. A court should be a safe place.”
“He had a court hearing he was obligated to attend,” added Maclean, a San Francisco public defender. “He was arrested for doing the right thing: showing up at court.”
According to advocates, this is the first time such a targeted courthouse immigration arrest has happened in San Francisco. But it is not an isolated case.
In the past two weeks, ICE agents targeted at least seven other people outside courthouses in Sonoma and Santa Clara counties.
“We survived something very similar to what happened here in San Francisco,” said Saucedo. She also serves as a lawyer with the Sonoma Rapid Response Network. “We had at least two compañeros detained by ICE and ultimately deported.”
Saucedo said that one man was detained in the lobby of the Sonoma County Hall of Justice while approaching his public defender. Another was arrested after getting out of his car and walking up the steps of the building. ICE did not possess the necessary warrants in either case, Saucedo said.
Santa Clara County officials fought multiple incidents in the recent weeks as well. The Rapid Response Network “verified and confirmed four attempts by ICE officers to arrest community members attending their court hearings,” said Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, the attorney coordinator for Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network. He said that in all four cases, ICE agents “lacked judicial warrants, as required by California law.”
“In one occasion, our network legal observer showed up and verified the ICE violations until the officers departed the court premises without making a single arrest,” he said. “That day, our community won.”
“California is intentionally a sanctuary state,” said Yolanda Jackson, executive director and general counsel of the Bar Association of San Francisco and Justice & Diversity Center. “Congress has not yet abrogated the longstanding immunity, which lists ICE’s enforcement powers. Shortly said, [ICE doesn’t] have the power to do what they’re doing.”
“ICE’s unlawful tactics are nothing new,” Reyes Savalza said. Jackson agreed. She reminded attendees of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s objection to ICE’s targeting of court buildings three years ago.
“Immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote in a 2017 letter to the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
That same year, California passed Senate Bill 54, which prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from assisting the federal government in conducting immigration enforcement activities. It also requires the Attorney General to limit local and state assistance “to the fullest extent possible” in ensuring that public spaces, such as courthouses, “remain safe and accessible to all California residents, regardless of immigration status.”
Advocates on Monday said that ICE is violating this state law.
“San Francisco will not allow such egregious abuse of power to go unchecked,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju in a statement. “We will provide immediate and zealous representation to anyone subject to such legal activity.”
The San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network encourages undocumented immigrants who have upcoming court hearings to contact them beforehand so that they can provide any legal assistance necessary. Their hotline is at (415) 200-1548.