Protesters who camped overnight at San Francisco’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices at 630 Sansome St. to highlight calls to dismantle the federal agency continued to block a driveway with tents and a makeshift barbed wire fence early Tuesday morning.
According to those at the scene, the action was orchestrated by a broad group of “individuals and helpful organizations” across the Bay Area and beyond, and is a response amid growing outrage over the Trump Administration’s aggressive immigration policies. Those policies have included detaining and separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Tuesday, ‘Occupy ICE’ protesters could be seen blocking the driveway used by vehicles transporting people who are detained. With a police car parked in plain view of the main camp near the intersection of Sansome and Washington streets, several of the roughly 35 people there said they had no intention of leaving until the federal agency is abolished.
“I’m committed until ICE is abolished,” said a protester who gave his name as Faiq,who camped in the facility’s driveway overnight. “The call here is to abolish ICE, but we want to bring attention to the fact that [this agency represents what] America is founded upon — on stolen land, on slavery, on property rights over everything else, over human rights — and that ICE is just a mere continuation of that.”
Founded in 2003, the federal law enforcement agency was established and “granted a unique combination of civil and criminal authorities to better protect national security and strengthen public safety in response to the deadly attacks perpetrated on 9/11,” according to its website.
In recent weeks, leaders across the nation have echoed the call to dismantle the agency, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Gavin Newsom, a Democratic candidate for governor of California, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris have both called for reforms to the agency, while Assemblyman David Chiu called for its abolishment at a rally held in San Francisco on Saturday. State Sen. Scott Wiener expressed support for the movement against ICE on Twitter, saying that “it’s time to start from scratch.”
On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen echoed that call, and told the San Francisco Examiner that she “supports the demand and actions of the protesters.”
“We are in unprecedented times that call for unprecedented actions and interventions,” said Ronen. Ronen said the process that existed before ICE was created, in which Immigration and Naturalization Service “was able to both deal with enforcement of immigration laws” and also “process petitions” for individuals to legally immigrate, “somewhat kinder.”
Though not directly calling for ICE to be abolished, Supervisor Jane Kim expressed support for the protest.
“It is important for our citizens to let our president know that his policies do not reflect the values of our community nor should they of our nation,” said Kim. “We should have sound immigration policies – not ones which inhumanely rip families apart.”
Tents were pitched outside of the local offices around 6 p.m. on Monday, following a protest outside of the USCIS offices that drew some 500 people earlier in the afternoon. The protesters said they intentionally scheduled the action late in the day so as to not disrupt immigrant families attempting to advance their ability to remain in the country.
The protesters held an emergency press conference Tuesday afternoon accusing ICE of retaliation after a family was allegedly denied an immigration services by ICE officials who cited the occupation.
“They were saying that the occupation is dangerous,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and a candidate in the Oakland mayoral race. “That seems like retaliation to us — you are denying them services and blaming it on the occupation.”
Kenneth Gardner, a regional spokesperson for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which is responsible for scheduling immigration hearings at 630 Sansome St., said that “court operations continued normally today.”
Hearing cancellations occur “as a normal cause of business….if an attorney does not show up, the hearing is cancelled or rescheduled,” he said.
Gardner added that most hearings are conducted via video conference calls, and that detainees are seldomly held in the facilities.
“Very rarely a detainee is brought into court,” said Gardner, adding that such cases include “Franco” hearings, in which “there is some question about the mental capacity” of the detainee.
But Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, said at a press conference held near the occupy camp on Tuesday afternoon that “on most mornings there are cars and buses and vans that go out to people’s homes, to jails, to prisons to arrest immigrants,” who are then brought to 630 Sansome St. “for processing.”
“The fifth and sixth floors of this building are used for processing immigrants, often they are taken then from there to a detention center elsewhere in the state,” he said, adding that “this building is the nucleus of ICE’s deportation operations” in Northern California.
“This building also is an ICE facility and sometimes buses come in trying to bring in people that have been detained by ICE in other parts of California,” said a protester who gave his name as Michael. “I know a lot of people don’t like it when you block their driveway, but a lot of people also don’t like what happens in this driveway.”
Since the tents went up, protesters said they have had two confrontations with San Francisco police officers, who told them they were in violation of state penal code section 647(e), which categorizes lodging “in any structure, vehicle, or place whether public or private” without permission of an owner as disorderly conduct.
Michael, one of the protesters, alleged that San Francisco police officers were seen “for some reason collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security …and federal protective services,” a law enforcement division of DHS, during Monday’s action.
“This would seem to on it’s face violate at least the spirit of San Francisco’s and state sanctuary policies,” he said. “The question we have to ask the officials of SF is: What are you doing? Why is your police department in collaboration with these agencies in defense of ICE?” he said.