by Marvin J. Ramírez
Last year, millions of people participated in two historical immigrant marches nationwide, demanding amnesty for millions of undocumented people living in the shadows. Meanwhile, Mayor Gavin Newsom was busy with other commitments, which cast doubts of his support for the undocumented plight.
While a new march on May 1st is being organized in most parts of the country, promising to be the biggest ever, Newsom said “I promise” to participate this time, during a townhall meeting at St. Peter’s Church on Sunday. The event, which attracted approximately 350 people, including Assemblyman Mark Leno and State Sen. Carol Migden, was organized by the San Francisco Organizing Project.
Newsom’s statement comes after a series of recent immigration raids in the Bay Area and pressure from immigrants and human rights advocates who have criticized him for not attending the previous marches. He pledged that San Francisco will remain a so-called “sanctuary city.”
The designation has no legal meaning, but Newsom promised that no city employee would assist in the raids.
The Board of Supervisors first declared San Francisco a sanctuary city in 1989. However, SFPD still confiscates the vehicles of undocumented people when they are stopped for minor traffic offenses, creating big business for the city and the towing companies.
On Friday, during an immigration raid, 13 foreign nationals were arrested without work permits at an Oakland manufacturing company. These continued ICE actions are creating panic of limitless proportions within the immigrant communities, and are imprisoning entire families inside their own homes.
“And there are mothers who not only are afraid to take their children to school, but to the park,” said Deacon Nate Bacon.
“I will not allow any of my department heads or anyone associated with this city to cooperate in any way, shape or form with these raids,” Newsom declared. “We are a sanctuary city, make no mistake about it.”
Sen. Migden promised to take action calling on the ICE to respect the immigrant communities. They should know “that they can’t treat our neighbors so savagely” while encouraging the members of the SF Organizing Project to help the Latinos in El Canal, Marin County – her district – organize the way they are doing it in San Francisco.
The mayor also answered questions on the day laborers issue, which has become a hot item for advocates, after the city has moved to select the old Home Depot building on Bayshore Blvd. as the new day laborers’ building, “without consulting the day laborers.” Currently, the Day Labor Program’s office is located on César Chávez St., half a block from Mission St.
The mayor denied the charge, saying that the Bayshore site will be fit to accommodate the laborers, and denied that SFPD will start ticketing those who continue soliciting employment on César Chávez St.
“It’s not about changing what there is already,” he said, “rather to better what there is,” while promising to work with them.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have continued to conduct raids across the country, including arrests in San Rafael, Oakland, Richmond, San Pablo, Santa Clara and other cities across the Bay area, since May of 2006.
Immigration officials have said they are executing arrest warrants for immigrants who had committed crimes or were in the country illegally and had ignored final deportation orders.
Officials added that in the course of serving deportation warrants, other people suspected of being illegal immigrants were questioned and then arrested. However, of at least 65 Main County residents that were arrested in March, just five have been ordered deported.
In March, San Rafael Mayor, Al Boro, called on California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to persuade the immigration agency to change how it is enforcing immigration law because he believed children were the ones being hurt.
Marches and rallies are planned in many cities over the coming weeks – including
Redwood City, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento – to name a few.
Newsom, Migden and Leno all vowed to work with other cities and legislators to put a stop to what they cited as blatant intimidation of immigrants.
“Our action is to stand strong in opposition to these raids… to make sure that we are not contributing in any way, shape or form,” Newsom said. “Even legal immigrants are fearful. This just sends a chill to a lot of people.”