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Despite Sanctuary Laws and COVID-19, ICE Raids Persist

From September 18 to October 3, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials arrested more than 100 immigrants across California, including 6 in the Bay Area. Dubbed as “Operation Rise,” ICE officials alleged most of those arrested had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges. Top immigration officials also hosted an unorthodox press conference after the raids, justifying their actions by targeting the state’s sanctuary policies and claimed to “provide security to our communities,” according to senior ICE official Tony H. Pham in a press release.

However, immigrant rights advocates such as Almas Sayeed of the California Immigrant Policy Center saw this move in other states as a political tactic to increase Trump’s re-election chances, despite hurting them anyway during election week.

“ICE is engaging in scare tactics to exacerbate the administration’s purposeful climate of fear, harming families and fracturing communities,” she said on KTVU FOX 2 News.

Many also believe ICE didn’t only arrest those with criminal convictions, even targeting families along with immigrant rights activists.

And while the California Values Act (or Senate Bill 54) aims to prevent state and local law enforcement from working with federal immigration agencies, it does not prevent local and state jails and prisons from cooperating with ICE after being detained. Any fingerprints processed in local and state jails and prisons are sent to ICE, and ICE would cross-check those fingerprints to identify individuals that are likely to be deported. Each jail and prison also operates differently depending on the relationship between local law enforcement, its institutions, and ICE. Nonetheless, ICE cooperation is voluntary, and SB 54 helps prevent immigrants from being asked about their immigration status and share personal information with ICE.

Critics have also called on Governor Newsom to stop the transfer of immigrant detainees from local and state custody to detention centers. They’re demanding the governor not to use state resources to work with immigration officials while putting detainees in harm’s way. State legislators sent a letter to Newsom’s office for this demand back in July.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, Newsom transferred over 250 immigrants from state prisons to ICE detention centers, and three of them tested positive for COVID-19 while imprisoned in Riverside County.

Notorious for unsafe conditions and overcrowding, detention centers don’t allow for social distancing due to overcrowding, making immigrants at a higher risk for COVID-19. With limited testing, ICE has reported almost 3,000 positive cases in its facilities, including 45 employees.

Newsom has not responded to the letter from state legislators and continues to relinquish detainees to ICE detention centers, many of which are operated by GEO Group. GEO Group is one of the largest prison operators in the United States and runs some of the largest detention facilities in California. Due to his inaction, advocates all around California are continuing to call for an end to these facilities after numerous reports of human rights abuses and abolishing ICE.

“The US is closing its borders to people migrating because of policies this country created, causing economic devastation and death,” said Julien Ball of Free Them All San Francisco.

As a sanctuary state, California has the potential to honor the values it projects on a national level by protecting immigrant communities. Advocates such as Rosa Carranza, who is also a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiary, argued that having sanctuary laws is the bare minimum, which hasn’t stopped ICE from conducting raids.

“ICE is one of the most racist, brutal institution in the United States created to oppress the already oppressed immigrants,” she said. “When they get to the US border, the ICE agents dehumanize them, brutalize them with the cruelest actions, grabbing the immigrant’s children from their parents, and placing them in cages. 

Ball agreed. “When people inevitably flee from their home countries, they are locked in cages and deported to face the very same conditions they fled in the first place. That’s why we need to close the camps, stop deportations, and grant full legalization for all.”

Photo Credit: “Abolish Ice Protest” by Master Steve Rapport is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Savannah is a freelance writer and photographer, organizer, and San Francisco resident. She (or they) covers actions, police, and labor for SFIJ.

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