By Jim Staats and Mark Prado, Marin Independent Journal
March 10, 2007
More than 100 people armed with signs and yelling chants gathered in San Rafael late Friday afternoon, the second protest of the day against Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the Canal neighborhood and Novato this week.
"They should only arrest the people they are after, not take everyone out of the home," said Laura Espinoza of Novato, who was waving an American flag as passersby honked in support of the protest at Third and Irwin streets. "And they should not take the kids. The kids have nothing to do with this. Do this right, not in the wrong way."
Others held signs reading: We Are All immigrants" and "ICE Attacks Families." The chant of "No More Raids" was heard periodically during the protest, which ran more than two hours.
"The method that they are using is what bothers us," said Ana Farrer of San Rafael. "There is a need to enforce the law, but the people that they took did not have deportation orders. And they are leaving the kids without parents."
Rick Oltman of Novato, a longtime advocate of tighter controls on immigration, watched part of the protest.
"What you have is a bunch of misinformed people," Oltman said afterward. "It’s just a minority of people who do not want these laws enforced."
Agents from ICE, the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security, have arrested an unspecified number of people, many rousted from their homes in the early morning hours, as part of a stepped-up campaign dubbed Operation Return to Sender to send illegal immigrants out of the country.
Earlier in the day San Rafael Mayor Al Boro, Supervisor Steve Kinsey and San Rafael Police Chief Matthew Odetto met with ICE officials to raise concerns.
"They reminded us that this is a program funded by Congress and that their job is to carry it out," Boro said.
ICE officials told the trio those taken into custody were being taken to Yuba City, Santa Clara or Arizona and that each person has a phone in their holding cell to let their family know where they are. ICE officials would not tell Boro how many people have been arrested so far. They did say that no one was taken off the street and no one would be arrested at a school or church.
"I still don’t like how they are going about it," Boro said of the ICE tactics. "We worked a long time to build trust in that community, which helps the city with law enforcement. We don’t want to see that erode."
Friday morning about 75 community members and clergy leaders clogged the Canal neighborhood’s sidewalks at dawn to offer solidarity for the community with plans to continue morning protests until the immigration raids that began this week are stopped.
Protesters gathered at Country Club Bowl, a bowling alley on Vivian Street, at 5 a.m., many with candles in hand, and dispersed to various intersections throughout the neighborhood for a three-hour morning vigil in support of immigrants in the Canal neighborhood.
Marinwood resident Bob Owen, 67, who arrived at 5 a.m. with his wife Jill, said he was moved by the stories he heard from talking with people who live in the Canal.
"A woman who has a child here was crying as she told me about what has been going on," he said. "It’s been so terrible for them. They’re afraid to go to school, to the store. They’re being told not to answer the door. I’m here out of a feeling of solidarity."
"We know people have been feeling afraid and we want them to know they’re not alone," said Jill Owen, 63.
The Rev. Carol Hovis, executive director of the Marin Interfaith Council, which organized the protest, said the early-morning arrival was timed to meet the early-morning ICE raids.
"We wanted to be here to say to the children and families it’s safe," she said.
Marjorie Delgadillo, 23, a counselor at the Marin Childcare Council in San Rafael and a Petaluma resident, arrived at 5 a.m. to show her support for community members with whom she lived shortly after arriving from Nicaragua at the age of 5.
"I feel that it could have easily been me," said Delgadillo, who earned her residency at the age of 16. "I could have been one of the residents of the Canal who went through this horrible ordeal. It just hit so close to home for me. I’m a kid from the neighborhood."
Though raids have also taken place in Novato this week, Hovis said protesters came to the Canal "because this neighborhood is such a close-knit neighborhood.
"It means a lot but it also means this has become a target," she said.
The protesters who planned to remain through 8:30 a.m. did not see any immigration officials arrive on Friday.
Hovis said they will return at 5 a.m. every weekday morning next week.
As people congregated below on the sidewalks at Medway Drive and Canal Street, residents in surrounding apartment buildings peered down from their balconies. The occasional driver tooted a horn in support.
The Rev. Julianne Stokstad, pastor of the First Congregational Church in San Rafael, stood on the sidewalk with candle in hand, fully adorned in her religious garments.
"I understand our laws but the methods are wrong," she said. "I don’t approve of the methods used, particularly with the children. I’m here to show my solidarity and support."
Julie Long, owner of Bellam Produce Market at the corner of Bellam Boulevard and Belvedere Street, said the raids have created a ghost town out of the neighborhood and dropped her daily sales from $3,000 a day to about $700.
"I’ve been here 10 years and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it," she said. "It’s pretty scary. There’s nobody on the streets and I don’t have one single person in my store right now."
"This is just the beginning," said Sister Marion Irvine, of the Dominican Convent in San Rafael. "We’re going to be here until ICE decides this is not the place to be."
In addition to the protests, superintendents of county schools issued a letter addressing the issue. The letter read in part:
"The answers to all of the issues about immigration are far beyond the purview of our schools and even our local communities to solve. What we can do is to work together with our governmental leaders and agencies to insure that our children do not become pawns in an issue that adults either are unable or unwilling to address. In a Kindergarten classroom, the eager eyes and the smiling face of a child anticipating the excitement of learning something new or gaining a new skill do not betray the residency status the child holds… Let’s all put the education of our children first."
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, also weighed in with a letter: "The manner in which ICE agents conducted their business does not reflect the values and priorities of civilized society We demand that you immediately cease these heavy handed tactics and work with local authorities on strategies to achieve your enforcement objectives (in a) more humane, reasonable manner."