Hundreds of high school and college students from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area skipped class on Halloween morning, Oct. 31, to participate in a youth-led “Stop the Raids” protest against immigration enforcement in downtown San Francisco. Transit officials shut down the Fruitvale and Coliseum BART stations in Oakland and the Richmond BART station after hundreds of East Bay students entered the stations and boarded trains to San Francisco without paying. Officials kept the stations closed for more than an hour. Some BART trains bound for San Francisco were delayed at the West Oakland station by protesters who held doors open and demanded that the Fruitvale station be reopened, passengers and BART officials said. Three people were detained at the Richmond station. (San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 1)
Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) police detained Oakland Tribune videographer Jane Tyska and confiscated her videotape as she was filming the student protest outside the Fruitvale BART station. Tyska was released about a half hour later without citation. Tyska said OUSD Police Chief Art Michel grazed her with his car as she was walking backwards, videotaping protesters in the middle of the street. Michel then stopped his car, began yelling profanities at her and accused her of hitting his car and inciting a riot, Tyska said.
“I immediately identified myself as a photographer for the Oakland Tribune, showed him my press pass, and said I was just doing my job, but he continued yelling and screaming profanities and said he was going to arrest me. I asked the officer why it was illegal for me to shoot from the street and he said it was a ‘moving crime scene’. To my knowledge, there is no such thing, and photographers are always in the middle of the action at protests.” Troy Flint, the spokesman for the Oakland school district, accused Tyska of elbowing the police car as Michel drove by. “The officer confiscated the tape as alleged evidence of the photographer’s interference with his ability to conduct his responsibilities, which in this case was protecting student-protesters,” Flint said. (Oakland Tribune, Oct. 31)
The protest in San Francisco began with a morning rally at Ferry Park on the Embarcadero. Around noon, hundreds of people (about 400 according to the San Francisco Chronicle) marched peacefully through the downtown financial district to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building, demanding an end to immigration raids, detention and deportation. Many of the marchers wore skull makeup or other Halloween costumes. The march tied up traffic on several streets. At the immigration building, about 100 protesters took part in civil disobedience, at least a dozen of them linking themselves together or chaining themselves to oil drums to block a vehicle entrance. Police decided to wait them out and made no arrests. “What we are doing is shutting down ICE with our bodies. We are blocking a major entrance where the vans go in and out,” said protester Inez Sunwoo. (SF Chronicle, Nov. 1; Bay Area Indymedia, Nov. 2; KGO-TV, San Francisco, Oct. 31)
Sagnicthe Salazar, a protest organizer from a youth group called Huaxtex, said protesters had jumped fare gates because they were organized independently and had no funding. “This was a peaceful protest. We were not trying to start anything,” said 17-year old Kenya Ramirez, who traveled from San Diego for the rally. “We were just trying to get our message out. Our message is civil disobedience.” (SF Chronicle, Nov. 1)
The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter National Lawyers Guild (NLGSF) issued a statement in support of the protesters. “The NLGSF deplores BART’s station closures which prevented hundreds of East Bay high school students from reaching the demonstration today at [ICE] headquarters in downtown San Francisco,” the organization said. “These are young people who care about their communities and their loved ones,” said NLGSF executive director Carlos Villarreal. “Our legal support team first heard about the BART closures this morning and we think it is unfortunate that our public transit system took such extreme measures, preventing these young people from exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Among other incidents, the protesters were reacting to a series of ICE raids in the Bay Area on Oct. 22 which allegedly targeted gang members. In the sweep, dubbed “Operation Devil Horns,” ICE agents violently invaded 11 residences, setting off explosive devices and pointing high-powered weapons at children. (NLGSF statement, Oct. 31) ICE announced the operation in an Oct. 23 news release, saying it had taken into custody 26 of 29 people indicted in a racketeering probe targeting the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang. Of the 29 people indicted, 22 face charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and seven face non-racketeering charges.
ICE said it executed nearly two dozen search warrants and 20 arrest warrants in the operation, and also served search and arrest warrants at eight correctional facilities in California where 15 of the defendants named in the indictment were already jailed on other charges. ICE said four other individuals who were not named in the indictment were arrested on criminal charges in the sweep along with “11 gang members and gang associates” picked up on administrative immigration violations.
Agencies providing support during the operation included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the California Highway Patrol; the California Department of Justice; the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement; the San Mateo County Gang Task Force; and the Richmond, San Francisco and South San Francisco police departments. During the three-year investigation that preceded the raids, ICE got help from the DEA; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the California Highway Patrol; the San Francisco Police Department; and other local law enforcement agencies. In addition, the Salvadoran National Police and ICE’s Attaché Office in El Salvador aided with the case by conducting searches and interviews of MS-13 associates in El Salvador. Over the course of the probe, 17 other alleged gang members were taken into custody on criminal charges; some of them are also named in the 52-count indictment unsealed on Oct. 23. (ICE news release, Oct. 23)
Indian workers arrested in North Dakota
On Oct. 28, ICE agents arrested 23 workers from India at the construction site for an ethanol plant near Casselton, N.D. All 23 had been hired several months ago to work for Wanzek Construction Inc. of Fargo. A task force led by ICE made the arrests without incident when the workers showed up for what had been announced as a staff meeting at the Wanzek Construction office west of West Fargo. The raid was prompted by a tip from Wanzek Construction. Company president Jon Wanzek said members of his staff contacted authorities after noticing irregularities on the workers’ identity documents, a few weeks after they were hired. The workers “just went through the normal process” to get hired, Wanzek said. “They just came in and applied just like everyone else.” Company officials “have cooperated throughout the investigation in this case and they are to be complimented for making this investigation possible at all through their initial report,” said Drew Wrigley, US Attorney for North Dakota.
All 23 workers face federal felony charges for possession of counterfeit documents. They also are accused of falsely claiming they were US citizens. Wrigley said they entered the US legally on a temporary worker visa and were issued a temporary social security card. “What happened then, we allege, is that they subsequently got counterfeit social security cards which look the same, have the same number which is legitimate for them but now doesn’t have the limiting information on it. That opens a whole variety of opportunities for them, for employment and then to overstay that visa,” Wrigley said. The false Social Security cards also enabled them to obtain driver’s licenses from Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Nebraska, said Wrigley. (The Forum, Fargo, Oct. 28, Nov. 1; Grand Forks Herald, Oct. 29; Minnesota Public Radio, Oct. 29; AP, Oct. 29; KXMB.com, Bismarck, Oct. 28)
According to the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, the workers arrested in North Dakota were among a group of some 500 people trafficked to the US after Hurricane Katrina by Gulf Coast employer Signal International, LLC and subjected to forced labor in Mississippi and Texas labor camps. The workers escaped the labor camps earlier this year, reported the company’s human trafficking to the Department of Justice, filed a federal class action lawsuit in New Orleans against Signal International and labor recruiters in the US and India, and held a march to Washington and a hunger strike to demand protection as witnesses to trafficking. The criminal trafficking investigation triggered by their protest is still open.
Upon realizing that they were being targeted by ICE, the workers in North Dakota presented letters explaining they were victims and witnesses to the federal crime of human trafficking. The letter listed their attorney’s name and contact information. They communicated that they did not want to be questioned without legal counsel. ICE summarily refused the workers’ requests and questioned them individually without attorneys or interpreters.
“It is an outrage that workers who courageously came forward at great personal risk to cooperate with the Department of Justice in a federal trafficking investigation were targeted by ICE and then denied access to their own legal counsel,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Why isn’t ICE spending national resources investigating criminal traffickers, instead of targeting and terrifying the victims?” asked Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. “Since these workers have come forward to report Signal International, LLC, to the Department of Justice, they have faced ICE surveillance, ICE arrests, and now an ICE sting operation.” (New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, Oct. 29)
On Oct. 31, the 23 workers made a court appearance at the Cass County Jail, with three interpreters communicating via speaker phone. Hearings are usually held at the federal courthouse. “There’s some logistical difficulties, as you might imagine, with a case that involves 23 defendants all coming in en masse like this,” Wrigley said. US Magistrate Judge Karen Klein set the detention hearing for next Nov. 7 after defense lawyers asked for more time to prepare. Nick Chase, assistant US attorney, told the magistrate that he expects a federal grand jury will consider the evidence against the workers early in the week of Nov. 3. (The Forum, Oct. 28, Nov. 1; AP, Oct. 29)
South Dakota dairy farms raided
On Oct. 29, ICE agents raided several dairy farms in northeastern South Dakota, arresting 27 people. The South Dakota Highway Patrol said it arrested 13 people for having false identity documents; ICE arrested 14 others on administrative immigration charges for allegedly being in the US without permission. One of the raided dairies was operated by Prairie Ridge Management in Veblen; the others were not identified. ICE spokesperson in Minnesota Tim Counts said an investigation began three months earlier when a man stopped by the Highway Patrol presented suspicious documents. He says further investigation revealed others who were using invalid or stolen Social Security numbers to register vehicles. The raid involved six law enforcement agencies, including ICE. (AP, Oct. 30; KELOLAND TV, Sioux Falls, Oct. 30; KSFY.com, Sioux Falls, Oct. 29)
Construction raid in Alabama
Just before 6 PM on Oct. 24, local police in Alabaster, Ala., acting in cooperation with ICE, served a warrant at Rodriguez Construction in connection with a two-year investigation into businesses and individuals employing unauthorized workers. A helicopter hovered above the site during the raid. Temple Black, regional spokesperson for ICE in New Orleans, said 31 male Mexican immigrants were detained. Two of the men—a father and son—were released after questioning. The others were transferred to the Perry County Correctional Center in Uniontown to be held pending deportation. (Shelby County Reporter, Oct. 27)
From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 2
See our last post on the politics of immigration.