Protesters on Wednesday took to the streets and sidewalks outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in San Francisco, demanding answers as dozens of undocumented immigrants have been arrested across Northern California over the past few days.
At one intersection near the ICE office, protesters chalked the pavement with the words "Bay Area United Against ICE! Keep Families Together" while denouncing the recent raids. Others nearby sat tethered together with "Sanctuary For All" banners attached to their clothing and barrels with the phrases "No Raids, No Ban, No Wall" resting next to them.
More than 150 people who are in violation of federal U.S. immigration laws have been arrested since Sunday, ICE said Tuesday.
The arrests have sparked fear in immigrant neighborhoods and kept people at home for fear of being arrested, according to local business leaders. ICE arrests come amid a nationwide debate over whether local jurisdictions that call themselves "sanctuary cities" must cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Federal ICE and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deportation officers have been conducting targeted immigration enforcement in the San Francisco Bay Area "consistent with federal law and agency policy, to arrest individuals who have violated U.S. immigration laws," ICE spokesperson James Schwab said.
The arrests were made based on leads developed by the local field office in conjunction with the National Criminal Analysis and Targeting center (NCATC), Schwab said.
About half of the individuals arrested have criminal convictions in addition to immigration violations, including convictions for assault/battery, crimes against children, weapons charges and DUI, he added.
"This operation is a continuation of ICE’s efforts to prioritize enforcement against public safety threats," Schwab said.
"Sanctuary jurisdictions like San Francisco and Oakland shield dangerous criminal aliens from federal law enforcement at the expense of public safety," said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. "Because these jurisdictions prevent ICE from arresting criminal aliens in the secure confines of a jail, they also force ICE officers to make more arrests out in the community, which poses increased risks for law enforcement and the public."
Honan also criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's decision to alert the public about ICE operations, saying it "further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens — making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold.”
"Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days," Honan said.
"However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision. Unlike the politicians who attempt to undermine ICE’s critical mission, our officers will continue to fulfill their sworn duty to protect public safety.”
Those arrested include 38-year-old ICE fugitive Armando Nuñez-Salgado, a Mexican citizen and documented Sureño gang member previously removed by ICE on four prior occasions. Nuñez-Salgado has prior criminal convictions in California over the past 18 years resulting in prison sentences totaling 15 years. His convictions include assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, hit-and-run causing injury and evading a peace officer.
In a similar operation earlier this month in Los Angeles, 88 percent of those arrested by ICE were convicted criminals. In 2017, ICE arrested 20,201 undocumented immigrants throughout California – 81 percent of whom were convicted criminals.
In a statement, ICE clarified: "ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately, and the agency prioritizes public and national security threats, immigration fugitives and illegal reentrants. However, all of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States"
An immigrants' rights group says word of the ICE operations are fueling fear across the Bay Area.
The group called Rapid Response and Immigrant Defense Network hasn't verified the exact number of arrests through the federal agency. ICE officials confirmed they have detained at least one person since Sunday.
In the Alum Rock business district in East San Jose, merchants say business has been down since Monday, and it's mostly due to rumors of ICE activity.
Jesus Flores, who runs a tax office on the Alum Rock corridor, says undocumented immigrants are staying home out of fear they could get caught up in a sting.
"We believe it's a fault of all the comments on social media, comments about immigration (agents) visiting households and our neighborhoods also visiting businesses," Flores said.
A merchant at a cellphone shop on Alum Rock Avenue said business the past two days has dropped by more than half.
"Its been really slow," Alicia Infante said.
Since Sunday, the phones at the offices of immigrant rights group SIREN have been ringing nonstop. The agency is also part of the county’s Rapid Response Network, going out to investigate reports of ICE activity in the neighborhoods.
But in many cases, SIREN says, the reports are false.
"It’s really important for community members to not spread something that hasn’t been verified," said Erica Leyva, spokeswoman for Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network.
Meanwhile, as president of the Alum Rock Business Association, Flores is planning a workshop for local merchants to see how they can legally protect their customers, so they can return to the local shops.
"We want our clients to know that we will do everything possible to protect them," he said.
A coalition of immigrant rights groups called Power, Not Panic Emergency Response Committee has scheduled a rally at noon Wednesday to denounce ICE’s operation as an abuse of power and to mount an emergency response. The rally will take place at ICE’s Northern California headquarters at 630 Sansome St. in San Francisco.
Additional information about the nature of the arrests provided by ICE:
• In Sacramento, a citizen of Mexico, who has criminal convictions for possession of a dangerous weapon, inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, DUI, convicted felon in possession of a firearm, burglary, threatening with intent to terrorize, battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. The individual is also a documented Sureños gang member
• In Sacramento, a citizen of Guatemala, who has a criminal conviction for false imprisonment
• In Bay Point, a citizen of Mexico, previously removed by ICE eight times and who has a criminal conviction for assault with a deadly weapon
• In Stockton, a citizen of Mexico, who has a previous criminal conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old
• In San Francisco, a citizen of Mexico, who has previous criminal convictions for battery and DUI
Of the targets who remain at large, those believed to be currently living in Oakland include:
• A Honduran citizen who was previously arrested in San Francisco County multiple times for cocaine possession and transport, probation violations and sex with a minor under 16, and;
• A citizen of Mexico who was previously arrested and convicted for carrying a loaded firearm, transportation and sale of narcotics and DUI.
Both have been previously removed from the U.S. on multiple occasions.