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Raids on Central American Families Spark Fear in SF

New America Media

By Elena Shore

Immigrant rights advocates gathered Wednesday in San Francisco to call on local police not to cooperate with immigration officials following last weekend’s raids on Central American families. Demonstrators also offered advice to migrants on what to do if immigration agents show up at their door.“There’s terror in our streets,” said San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, speaking in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters. Avalos called the recent crackdown a “slap in the face” to immigrant communities. “Only pain and misery will be caused by it,” he said.

The demonstration came just days before San Francisco is set to swear in Sheriff Elect Vicky Hennessy on Friday. Hennessy has said she plans to change San Francisco’s current sanctuary policy to allow for more communication between local police and ICE.

The first raids of 2016, announced before Christmas by the Obama administration, targeted Central American families who had arrived in the United States recently. Some 121 people were deported, mostly from Texas, North Carolina and Georgia. Immigrant rights leaders criticized the crackdown as inhumane, illogical and hypocritical.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the raids targeted adults and their children who were apprehended after May 1, 2014, had been issued a removal order and had no outstanding claim for asylum.

Critics contend that many of these families might have qualified for asylum but haven’t had access to adequate representation to make their case.

Democratic hopefuls Sen. Bernard Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, meanwhile, have called for an end to the deportation raids. Hillary Clinton has said she has “real concerns” about the raids, according to a spokesperson for her campaign, but she has not personally denounced them.

At the demonstration in San Francisco, families who came here fleeing violence spoke of “fear” and “panic.”

“Our lives were threatened [in El Salvador] and we are afraid of returning to our country,” said Marvin Franco, who recently came to the United States with his family. “I’m telling Obama, ‘Please, do not deport us.’ If I am deported today, tomorrow I will be killed.”

Doracilia Cortes, whose husband was detained by ICE last month, says their eight-year-old daughter will not stop crying. “This is not what we expected from this country,” said Cortes, who came to the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s.

The conditions that Central Americans are now fleeing were created by U.S. policies 30 years ago, said Luis Ángel Reyes Savalza, a law fellow with Pangea Legal Services and East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition. “This country, through military interventions in the 1980s and economic policies, has destroyed these countries,” said Reyes Savalza.

In response to the raids, immigrant rights advocates, attorneys and Central American governments are helping to educate undocumented families about their rights. Among the advice given at the demonstration: Don’t open your door; If they say they have a warrant, have them pass it under the door; You have the right to remain silent; Don’t sign anything. Residents are encouraged to report any ICE activity in their neighborhoods to the ICE Out of California hotline, 1-844-TRUST-01.

Local advocates are also launching a social media campaign, #sfswearsin to call on Sheriff Elect Hennessy to continue the city’s sanctuary policy and prevent law enforcement from turning over families to immigration agents.

Hennessy was elected after the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle made national headlines last year. Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez, a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported numerous times, has been charged with her murder.

Hennessy has said her plans to allow communication between law enforcement and immigration agents would focus on “career criminals.”

But immigrant rights advocates, who say the raids have created a climate of “fear and panic” in immigrant communities across the country, warn that the new sheriff’s plan and the news of raids are eroding trust between immigrant families and law enforcement.

“Police shouldn’t interfere in immigration,” said Cortes, whose husband was arrested and handed over to ICE when the couple went to retrieve their impounded car. “My neighbors are afraid that this could happen to them.”

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