"We have the right to work"

By Roger Dyer and Todd Chretien

Francisco, a restaurant worker, speaks out against ICE raids before May 27 immigration hearings (Todd Chretien | SW)Francisco, a restaurant worker, speaks out against ICE raids before May 27 immigration hearings (Todd Chretien | SW)

SAN RAFAEL, Calif.--Residents of the Canal Area of San Rafael, just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, were awakened on the morning of May 22 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents knocking at the doors of their homes.

Between eight and 10 ICE agents apparently gathered at a local coffee shop for a quick cup of coffee before setting off to "work." The raid began at 6 a.m., with agents going door to door in this heavily Latino neighborhood.

One neighborhood resident, Carla, reported that the agents had 40 arrest warrants. By her count, 16 men and one woman were detained, and, of these, four were arrested. ICE vans were reportedly seen all around the area throughout the remainder of the day.

Immigrant families organized themselves against the raids by arranging for quick transportation to friends' houses and by keeping their kids out of school. They passed the word person-to-person, by cell phone and by calling into 1010 AM on the radio show of Marco Gutierrez, a very popular Spanish-language talk show host with long-standing ties to the community.

ICE has been conducting raids in the Bay Area frequently since May 2, when 63 workers at the El Balazo Taqueria chain were arrested in several Bay Area cities. More raids followed in Berkeley and Oakland.

While these raids have intensified fear within immigrant communities and workplaces, the raids have also sparked outrage and protest.

Two hundred fifty people gathered in San Francisco on May 5 to protest the El Balazo raids, and 50 came out to support the workers on May 27 at the first day of hearings in front of immigration judges in San Francisco. The protests were organized by Renee Saucedo with La Raza Centro Legal and other activists.

"I'm very sad because they treat us like criminals," Francisco, one of the El Balazo workers, said at the rally outside San Francisco's ICE headquarters. "I have decided to stay and fight my case because we have the right to work. I want to thank all the lawyers and the rest of you that are standing beside us."

The El Balazo workers are organizing themselves to fight for their rights as their immigration hearings take place over the coming months. In addition to responding to the on-going raids, defending the El Balazo workers will be a test case for the Bay Area immigrant rights movement's ability to stand up to ICE.