U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seeking an undocumented immigrant visited a home in San Francisco’s Mission District on Thursday, but not before first stopping at a building housing a preschool next door by mistake, an agency spokesperson confirmed.
ICE’s Bay Area-based Fugitive Operations Teams conducting “routine enforcement activities” went to the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center at 1290 Potrero Ave. in the Mission District at about 9 a.m. Thursday, trying to locate a convicted sex offender sought for deportation. ICE did not specify the nature of the sex offense.
The family resource center where the ICE agents first visited contains a preschool on site, where 30 toddlers and children played feet away from where ICE agents entered the center.
“They had batons, they had walkie talkies, they had police belts and vests on top of their black uniforms. I didn’t notice if they had guns,” said Jaime Aragon, services coordination manager at Good Samaritan.
ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said the agents first went to the person’s last known address and identified themselves as ICE officers, but were told the correct address was actually next door at the Good Samaritan-owned apartment building.
When the agents went next door, they did not find their target and left without making any arrests. Kice said such operations occur every day throughout the U.S.
“ICE’s enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven, focusing on individuals who pose a threat to national security, border security, and public safety,” Kice said in a statement.
Still, the incident sparked fear and outrage among immigration advocates in San Francisco
The incident, which former Supervisor David Campos called “unusual,” came only a day after President Donald Trump signed two executive orders that — among other actions — called for 10,000 new ICE agents to perform deportations across the country.
Campos, who termed out in November, said he can’t remember any ICE raids during his time as supervisor in the Mission District, a historically Latino neighborhood, and only a “couple of cases” where ICE was seeking someone for deportation.
“Trump just declared war on immigrants,” Campos said. “This is very unusual.”
Visiting a preschool and other sites containing children is prohibited for ICE under a 2011 Department of Homeland Security “sensitive locations” memorandum, save for exceptional circumstances.
A 2011 memorandum from then-Department of Homeland Security Director John Morton wrote that ICE agents “do not occur at nor are focused on sensitive locations such as schools and churches,” including preschools.
However, the order is not intended to “categorically prohibit” operations at sensitive locations like schools, according to the memo, and exceptions include enforcement over a national security or terrorism matter; an imminent risk of death, violence or physical harm; the immediate arrest or pursuit of a dangerous felon or terrorist suspect; or imminent risk of destruction of evidence in an ongoing criminal case.
Mayor Ed Lee’s spokesperson Deirdre Hussey said the incident Thursday is an example of how The City must continue to protect undocumented immigrants, even under the threat of losing federal funding by upholding its sanctuary city status.
“We encourage people to continue to visit their community based organization and get the services they need,” Hussey said. “San Francisco is and will remain a sanctuary city.”
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, whose district includes the Mission, echoed that sentiment.
“We don’t want people to be unnecessarily afraid,” Ronen said, adding that while this was an ICE appearance, “there has not been a raid.”
“Take this time to review your rights,” she said. A number of workshops for nonprofits and community members to review their immigration rights are scheduled for the next few weeks.
This story has been updated from its original version.