In the immigrant community, rumors of immigration raids can spread like wildfire.
Especially in the age of President Donald Trump’s heated rhetoric, that panic can lead to turmoil, as undocumented immigrants fearing deportation avoid work and school and live in a state of fear.
Now, a new 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline from a group of local nonprofits aims to defend immigrants detained by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and verify the rampant rumors of raids.
The San Francisco Rapid Response Network is funded by the recently pledged $7.5 million from Mayor Ed Lee toward legal defense for undocumented immigrants.
Other ICE hotlines have existed in California, but this is the first truly local solution in San Francisco with a rapid-response rumor verification component, said Ana Herrera, managing attorney at the nonprofit Dolores Street Community Services.
When ICE raids someone’s home, the hotline can send attorneys where they’re needed: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices at 630 Sansome St.
But when a rumored raid turns out to be a fairy tale, the hotline can stop fear from seizing the community and let them know The City is safe.
Like many of our modern dilemmas, ICE raid rumors often start with someone clicking “share” on a Facebook post, Herrera said. “There was one rumor that ICE was on 24th and Mission” streets, she told me as we sat in her office Monday. “It turned out to be Muni fare inspectors.”
The hotline was also inspired by a misunderstanding in late January, when ICE agents mistakenly visited Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, which houses a preschool.
Herrera said mutated versions of the story shot through the community, most only containing the barest kernels of truth resembling the actual situation.
Still, it’s not all hot air. The hotline has taken more than 450 calls since it started on Feb. 10, said Marisela Esparza, program manager at the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network.
And in those hundreds of calls, sometimes the rumors are true.
Such was the case only four days after the hotline launched. The hotline has four nonprofit partners who rotate as “on-call” staff. On Feb. 13, it was Hongmei Pang, an immigrant rights program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, who answered the phone.
The caller told Pang that ICE appeared at an apartment building in Daly City, at San Francisco’s border near the Cow Palace. Pang and a colleague drove out there quickly and found the street empty, save for a gaggle of neighbors worriedly crowded around the raided home.
“The lock was hit in, the door was cracked,” Pang said, and she found “a mother and young child left in this abyss of a ransacked home.”
The entire apartment was taken apart, like a tornado had hit.
Esparza said ICE had a search warrant because one of the men had an alleged “gang affiliation.” But the other man living with him was taken in as a “collateral arrest.”
As for the mother and neighbors, “We were able to tell them who we were and what we could do, and they told us what happened,” Pang said. They sent for an available attorney, who quickly went to the immigration center on Sansome Street to defend the men.
“We took over 200 pictures of the scene, and submitted intake sheets of what we could collect,” Pang said.
Still, though Herrera, Esparza and a bevy of nonprofits are doing what they can, they don’t have enough resources to meet the need that’s out there. You can help support them at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1425861. And remember their advice:
“It’s so easy to hit ‘share’” on Facebook, Esparza said, when you see an ICE raid rumor. “People just want to be helpful.” The best thing to do is ask whomever saw the alleged raid to document the situation and call the hotline.
Panic helps no one. Report ICE in San Francisco at 415-200-1548. Reporten a La Migra en San Francisco al 415-200-1548
Four years is a long time in the real world, but a blink of the eye in government. So four years after I scathed then-Supervisor Scott Wiener, I think it’s time to give the state senator a shout out.
In 2014, I called out local politicians for allowing recycling centers to disappear. Yes, they’re noisy, and the clanging and crashing annoyed neighbors (translation: voters). But those recycling centers were also a needed lifeline for many in the community, including the homeless and elderly immigrants with few job prospects.
Wiener told me he supported the closure of the Church and Market streets Safeway’s recycling center because mobile recycling centers would pick up the slack. That’d be a win-win, right? Neighborhoods wouldn’t have to deal with constant noise, and those who depended on the money wouldn’t need to truck all the way out to the Bayview.
It didn’t work out that way. The mobile recycling centers never came. It was later discovered state law rendered them illegal, and homeless and poverty-stricken recyclers were forced to The City’s southeast, impacting their bottom lines and their ability to eat.
I never let Wiener forget it either.
It’s a broken promise, I told him, again and again and again.
Now, he’s fulfilled it, or is at least trying to with the introduction of a state bill creating a legal framework for the mobile recycling centers.
“I always intended to do so,” Wiener told me recently. “Before that, we were just trying to get a program going, but state law was in the way.”
Keep it up, Scott.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at Facebook.com/FitztheReporter.