Uniting to protest Bay Area raids

September 16, 2008

Diana Macasa and Guillermo Gonzalez of POOR Magazine report on the Bay Area Town Hall Meeting for Immigrant Rights.

RICHMOND, Calif.--Chanting "El pueblo vive, la lucha sigue" ("The people live on, the struggle lives on"), over 250 concerned residents kicked off the Bay Area Town Hall Meeting on Immigrant Rights on September 6 in Richmond, Calif.

Bay Area community organizers and concerned residents have come together to address elected politicians from five counties--including Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Alameda--and hold them accountable for the recent trend of immigration raids in northern California. Community organizations and individuals squeezed into a cramped cafeteria to voice opposition to the continual harassment of immigrant workers by the police and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ramón Cardona opened the forum for discussion by demanding, "Stop the raids, stop police checkpoints that target immigrant families, give every resident of the Bay Area a municipal ID. We want California to become a sanctuary state that upholds and enforces rights for everyone."

The Bay Area is in a state of emergency for immigrant workers and their families. Over 400 innocent workers have been arrested in ICE raids in recent months in the area. The undocumented work for less than minimum wage, pay taxes and have no criminal records, yet they are criminalized by a system that benefits from their cheap labor.

Not only is this evident in the Bay Area where organizations are expressing their opposition to this injustice, but it is a national trend, affecting towns like Postville, Iowa, and Laurel, Miss., where little political support for immigrants existed prior to the attacks conducted by ICE this year. Over 1,000 petrified workers were arrested in raids this year in these two towns.

These attacks are not behind us. They will continue, as recent raids in the Bayview district of San Francisco and in the small town of Arcata, Calif., have proven, and they will continue nationwide unless change is demanded immediately.

On the morning of September 3, a mother in San Francisco's Mission district witnessed the illegal and unjust arrests of her two sons by ICE, even after she showed the officers legal documents proving that their immigration status was pending. This was one of the many stories that were shared at the town hall meeting depicting the state of panic that immigrants experience daily.

Feliciano, a worker affected by the El Balazo Taqueria raids on May 2, described the impact of the ICE raids on his entire family by denying him the right to work and to provide a steady income for a son suffering from terminal cancer. Speakers explained how ICE raids that immobilize a family's main income provider have created a feeling of hopelessness.

AFTER HEARING these stories, attendees made their message clear to the politicians at the town hall meeting that they believe every human being deserves to live with dignity.

"We are the workers who get paid nothing to make the rich richer!" said Gloria Esteva from Voces de Inmigrantes en Resistencia program at POOR Magazine. Phil Hutchings from Black Alliance for Just Immigration said, "ICE are the 21st century slave-catchers!"

The politicians who attended the meeting listened, but without a constant voice of discontent and opposition expressed from the community, there will be no pressure for them to follow through on these demands.

The Richmond town hall meeting united community activists, a large number of immigrant rights organizations and migrant workers who have been directly impacted by the violence of ICE raids. In order for our demands to be met, the momentum must continue and we must stay united and continue the struggle to win amnesty for all immigrants.

Further Reading

From the archives