Bay Area ICE raids on heels of May Day

Roger Dyer reports from San Francisco on the Feds' raids--and immigrant rights activists' rapid response.

SAN FRANCISCO--On the heels of May Day marches for immigrant rights around the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers conducted raids targeting the El Balazo Taqueria chain in the Bay Area on May 2.

ICE officers stormed 11 different chain locations in at least six cities. According to detainees, the agents came in and locked the doors. No one was allowed to leave as every taqueria employee on duty in all locations was interrogated.

ICE claims to have had warrants for "wanted criminals" and insists that it didn't do a haphazard sweep. But according to its own press statement, ICE arrested no less than 60 people, all of them Latino. The detainees were taken to the ICE office in downtown San Francisco--on their release, some of those detained reported that as many as 80 people had been arrested.

Following the raid, activists, lawyers and community service providers gathered at ICE's San Francisco offices to meet detainees as they were released, and provide legal and other assistance to them and their family members.

"ICE says they're going after criminals, but they just arrested 60 people for the 'crime' of working," said Sarah Norr, of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE). The Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, National Lawyers Guild, ACLU and International Socialist Organization also had people on hand to help out in this immediate response to the raids.

Detainees as well as lawyers who went into the ICE offices said only a handful of those arrested were allowed legal council while in ICE custody, and those who were able to talk with a lawyer were allowed to do so only after hours of interrogation, both at the work site and in ICE detention.

The raids took place at 10:30 a.m., yet the first detainees to be released were not freed until well into the evening. The last detainees allowed to leave came out 12 hours after the ordeal began. Eventually, nearly 30 people were allowed to go home, but only after being fitted with an electronic anklet to monitor their location. These people will be required to check in at ICE offices several times a week until their immigration status is resolved by a hearing.

And those were the "lucky ones." Thirty to forty more people have already been shipped to a northern California detention center to await deportation.

All this follows a raid at a Home Depot in another Bay Area city, Fremont, on March 28, in which 15 day laborers were arrested as they sought work.

Fortunately, word about the raids got out quickly, allowing for a prompt response to be organized. A rally has been called for May 5 at the San Francisco ICE office. The call is being put forward by a number of service organizations, community groups, political organizations and unions that have been tracking the attacks on immigrants and have spent several months building rapid-response networks to build resistance to these attacks.

ICE is consciously conducting a campaign to strike fear into the hearts of immigrants and working people. Grassroots organizing is an important way to cut against the sense of fear and isolation--and it is knitting together local activists in a fight against the raids, and for justice and equality for all workers.