"ICE, you can't invade our city!"

By Jessica Kochick

Activists organized an emergency response following ICE raids on a Bay Area restaurant chain (Todd Chretien | SW)Activists organized an emergency response following ICE raids on a Bay Area restaurant chain (Todd Chretien | SW)

SAN FRANCISCO--Some 250 immigrant rights supporters gathered May 5 for an emergency press conference and protest at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices.

As a calculated slap in the face to workers and immigrants who took to the streets on May Day demanding justice, ICE carried out a series of raids on May 2 that targeted 11 restaurants in the El Balazo Taqueria chain throughout the Bay Area. More than 65 workers were detained; a number were held for deportation, and others were released only after being fitted with electronic monitoring devices on their ankles.

Using a rapid-response network, activists began mobilizing May 2 as soon as they got word of the raids. The May 5 action in San Francisco--which Mayor Gavin Newsom has declared a sanctuary city--included several of the detained workers and their families, unions, immigrant rights groups and members of the faith community. As Miriam Zamoras of the St. Peter's Housing Committee explained, "We must take to the streets to enforce the sanctuary city status that these immigration officials have violated."

José Luis Sánchez, an employee of El Balazo for eight years, was one of the workers who was detained. "I am not a criminal," he said. "I pay my taxes every year." Sánchez spoke of how ICE officials deceived the workers by entering the restaurant in plain clothes and ordering burritos before arresting them.

He worries about how his family will survive the situation, but as he said at the rally, "I feel more supported now. People in the street draw attention to what is happening to us."

"My wife and 7-year-old son are dependent on me," said Antonio Gonzalez Hernandez, who has been employed at El Balazo for 10 years. "He was born here so he's a citizen. I don't know what they'll do without me."

Other speakers addressed the manner in which government policy--through raids, employer sanctions and Social Security "no-match" letters--leads to the exploitation of immigrant workers who are denied basic rights. Brooke Anderson, of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, argued, "The raids are an attempt by ICE to scare people and whip up support for the passage of a guest-worker program that will hurt workers and make them vulnerable. We won't let Homeland Security punish our workers as a way to generate support for anti-immigrant legislation."

Alfonso Pines, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 2, added, "We're here supporting our brothers and sisters. No one is illegal in this country, you know...My people came over here from Africa, and nobody gave us a green card. When the Europeans came, they didn't give them a green card. So why all of a sudden have the rules changed?"

Renee Saucedo, of La Raza Centro Legal, addressed her comments directly to ICE officials, who remained behind their heavily guarded glass doors: "ICE, you cannot invade our city and terrorize our communities!"

Activists are promising to continue to organize to defend El Balazo workers, protest the raids and demand that San Francisco remain a sanctuary for immigrants and their families.