S.F. activists confront Minutemen

August 12, 2008

THE STRUGGLE to maintain sanctuary cities for immigrants reached a new stage when the racist Minutemen came to San Francisco City Hall on July 31 to start a nationwide campaign against municipalities that don't cooperate with immigration authorities.

San Francisco's sanctuary city law prohibits city officials, workers and police from asking about immigration status and reporting immigration status to ICE. Like other cities with similar laws, it allows all San Francisco residents to be treated as equals by allowing unfettered access to city services regardless of immigration status.

The Minutemen were quickly outnumbered by more than 200 immigrant rights supporters who mobilized on a day's notice to defend the sanctuary city ordinance. Less than a dozen Minutemen were quickly scattered and forced to the corner when protesters flooded onto the city hall steps.

San Francisco police forced protesters off the steps to allow Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist to read his press release. But Gilchrist was drowned out by chants of "racists go home" and "Sanctuario si! Racistas no!"--and retreated into the safety of City Hall to talk to reporters, leaving a handful of followers to deal with the confrontation.

Activists gather in San Francisco to protest the Minutemen
Activists gather in San Francisco to protest the Minutemen (Brian Cruz | SW)

The multiracial crowd represented many immigrant rights, left and labor organizations, including the Bay Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, Mujeres Unidas, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, AFSCME Local 3299, the International Socialist Organization, the Filipino Community Center, CARECEN, CISPES, the Movement for Unconditional Amnesty, ANSWER Coalition and many others.

"The U.S government is trying to force more guest worker programs," said activist Jazzie Collins. "Guest-worker programs are modern-day slavery. Corporate America is the new plantation owner. This is a civil rights struggle."

After an hour and a half, the Minutemen retreated, escorted by the police, to the jeers of demonstrators.

Protesters also called out recent encroachment on the sanctuary city ordinance by Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials in the wake of Honduran youth with criminal records being handed directly to ICE. Newsom's betrayal and a storm of anti-immigrant scapegoating, stirred up in part during the murder trial of an undocumented worker, Edwin Ramos, gave the Minutemen confidence to come to San Francisco.

But as an organizer of the anti-Minutemen protest, Maria Poblet, said, "When city officials vacillate and do not defend the sanctuary city, the people will force them to. Let this whole state become a sanctuary for immigrants."

Newsom's cooperation with ICE has had consequences for the immigrant community, particularly Hounduran immigrants, who are being scapegoated.

On the morning of July 31, ICE agents raided a house in the Mission district, kicking down the door before displaying a warrant, and handcuffing everyone in the house while they were questioned and had their documents and cell phones confiscated. No one was taken into custody, but they may now be under investigation by ICE.

SFPD cars were sighted driving up and down the street while the raid took place. The SFPD were also targeting immigrants the same day in the Tenderloin district, pulling over people for minor traffic violations such as having a rosary hanging from their mirror and then asking for immigration papers.

These events display the need to defend sanctuary cities against attacks by both right-wing hate mongers and city officials.

Brian Cruz contributed to this article.

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