By Rob Rogers, Marin Independent Journal
March 14, 2007
Marin supervisors blasted federal immigration agents Tuesday for their actions during raids in San Rafael and Novato, and will send letters of condemnation to federal authorities.
While the board recognized the government’s authority to enforce immigration laws, supervisors said the tactics used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents struck fear into the community, causing social chaos comparable to the 2005 floods that ravaged Marin.
"A year and a half ago, some of us lived with the devastation those floods created – their entire world changed – while the rest of us went about our lives as normal," Supervisor Steve Kinsey said. "Today, we’re trying to understand the consequences of these raids coming through Novato and the Canal, and what we can do to try to stitch our community back together."
San Rafael Mayor Al Boro, in particular, criticized immigration agents for identifying themselves as police officers, despite repeated requests by city officials not to do so.
"Our police don’t enforce immigration laws in our community. That’s not our job," Boro said. "We’ve worked long and hard to build a sense of trust with the members of our community so that if a crime has been committed, people will be willing to help us. We asked (immigration agents) not to identify themselves as police, but they said they will continue to do so."
Federal agency spokeswoman Lori Haley said ICE officials did not believe their actions eroded trust in the community.
"ICE agents are federal law enforcement officials, and ‘police’ is a globally understood term," Haley said.
Boro, who met with immigration officials in San Francisco last week, said that agents did not arrest and handcuff a 7-year-old boy, as some residents claimed.
"They arrested the father on a warrant, and he was a single dad, with nowhere to leave his son, so he stayed with his father in a separate cell," Boro said.
But the mayor took the agency to task for refusing to disclose the names or even the number of people arrested in last week’s raids, many of whom have since been transported to San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sacramento and Arizona.
"I ask that people who are arrested be allowed time to take a change of clothing, and to look for their family’s phone numbers," said Olivia Beltran of the Grassroots Leadership Network. "Also, I’d ask ICE to leave a note behind saying who was taken and where. Otherwise, it’s the same as what happened in El Salvador and Chile with the death squads."
But ICE spokeswoman Haley said the decision to keep names secret was done on behalf of those arrested.
"This is an administrative arrest, not a criminal arrest," Haley said. "It’s not a matter of public record, based on the privacy rights of the individuals arrested."
Rick Oltman, a member of the Santa Barbara-based California Population Stabilization, said the county shouldn’t attempt to "micromanage" immigration agents participating in Operation Return to Sender, a nationwide hunt to track down undocumented immigrants who had already received deportation orders.
"Operation Return to Sender was looking for absconders, 400,000 illegals who had been ordered to be deported," Oltman said. "That’s 400,000 people who should be deported," he said. If they are allowed to stay, "what is this country going to be like in another 15 years?"
Mariluz Arredondo, who worked for the U.S. Census in 2000, noted the raids seemed exclusively directed at Marin’s Spanish-speaking community, despite the number of immigrants from other cultures.
"In 2000, there were more than 11,000 people here from 16 different countries," Arredondo said. "And yet this was directed at the Hispanic community."
Advertising executive Flor Emert said she talked to one Canal resident whose husband was arrested while she was giving birth to twins.
"She’s scared that if she goes to anyone for help, they’re going to come after her, take away her babies, and kick her out of the country," said Emert, president of Campos-Emert Marketing and Promotions in San Rafael. "And I can’t tell her no. I thought I lived in a civilized country, but it seems as though we’re proceeding in another direction."
Supporters of the raids objected to the notion that those who were arrested were victims.
"Does anybody not understand the word ‘illegal?’" said Novato resident Jerome Ghigliotti. "Their first act upon coming to this country was to violate federal law. There are tens of thousands of people who come here legally, and to them I say welcome. But there’s about 10 percent of our population, a significant proportion, that’s here illegally. They don’t pay taxes, they take our public services, and they’re overwhelming emergency rooms throughout the Bay Area."
Mill Valley resident Margaret Moody, a researcher on Latino immigration, said the number of undocumented immigrants is about 10 million.
"They do pay taxes," Moody said. "And the vast majority of academic studies show that undocumented immigrants are a boost to the economy."
San Rafael Superintendent of Schools Laura Alvarenga said the raids terrified many students, causing them to miss school during a crucial day of testing.
"Monday morning was business as usual, but by Tuesday, everything had changed," Alvarenga said. "Bahia Vista normally has about 10 to 11 absences, but on Tuesday we had 79. At San Pedro, which has an enrollment of 400, we normally have 10 to 12 absences. On Tuesday, we had 50. At Laurel Dell, we had 25 out of 150 students absent.
"On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had writing tests for the state assessment procedure," Alvarenga said. "Even for those students who were present, it’s difficult to ascertain their mental alertness for taking the test, considering all they had seen that morning."
Alvarenga said many San Rafael teachers rode the bus with their students on Wednesday to help reassure them. She praised those parents who returned their students to school on Wednesday, despite concerns that a trip to the bus stop could be a trip to an immigration cell.
"At the secondary school level, we’ve tried to deliver the message that our students are safe, that no one will pick them up," Alvarenga said.
"When the principal of San Rafael High School made that presentation and asked if there were any questions, one student raised his hand. He said, ‘If the school is a safe place, can I bring my parents here, too?’"
Supervisors unanimously resolved to request a review of immigration agency policy by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.
"The historical analogy I’d make is to 1930s Nazi Germany," Supervisor Charles McGlashan said. "Xenophobia in Germany led to the death camps. We need to stop that at its earliest instance."
In addition, Legal Aid of Marin offered to collect stories of abuses or violations by immigration agents for possible legal action, while the Canal Welcome Center is seeking supplies, such as food, clothing and diapers, for those who have been afraid to leave their homes.
"It happened to me in 1997," said Mariluz Arredondo, who is helping to organize the relief effort. "They took me at 3 a.m. to Bakersfield. They never let me use the phone."
Haley said that ICE’s Operation Return to Sender would continue through June.
"We’re targeting individuals who have been given their final order for deportation by a judge. We’re trying to bring integrity to the immigration system," Haley said.
"Those who are arrested have their right to due process, to fight their deportation in court. But if they lose, they ought to abide by the rules."
Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]