A crowd of more than a hundred gathered on the sidewalk outside a downtown field office for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement late Friday morning and broke into religious songs as they professed an updated take on a message deeply tied to their religious identity: let my people stay.
The crowd was led by a coalition of activist organizations, many of which represent Bay Area Jewish groups, to protest the agency and its immigration policies. Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that ICE officials may be planning a large raids in Northern California cities, including San Francisco.
The protest also comes during a time when the president and his administration are pushing particularly hard for immigration reform, including the building of a border wall. The president has suggested that if a wall is not built, the Department of Homeland Security program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would end. The program allows immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to stay in the country so long as they renew their status.
Carrie Sterns, an SF State alumna and fellowship director with the Bay Area chapter of the non-profit Jewish group Bend the Arc, said she personally knows people protected by DACA. Of the nearly 700,000 active DACA recipients, about 80% of them were born in Mexico, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“There’s been a lot of fear around the threats of increased ICE raids in the community,” Sterns said. “And we just really want folks in undocumented communities to know that Jews are here with them.”
Naama Firestone, a community organizer with Bend the Arc, said the fact that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors has made her particularly conscious to issues involving immigrants.
“I don’t believe anybody is illegal,” said Firestone. “My grandparents were able to survive because other countries took them in.”
Some in the crowd directed others to stand away from the entrance so as not to block it, while law enforcement officers stood along the outside of the sidewalk on Sansome Street.
Shortly after the crowd had gathered, a circle formed around some of the protesters who talked into a microphone about how their lives had been affected by immigration policies. They led the crowd, some of whom held signs in Yiddish, in songs and chants.
Kendra Froshman, a volunteer organizer with Bend the Arc, offered a way for SF State students to become directly involved in helping immigrants threatened by ICE.
“College students can get trained on rapid response,” said Froshman. “If there is a raid, you are trained to show up where that’s happening.”
Froshman said the training involves learning how to document an ICE raid, ensuring a detainee’s rights aren’t being violated, and helping direct the detainee’s family to the detention center.
“I think the [SF State] campus sometimes needs to make more connections with the community, outside, off-campus,” said Joel Schechter, an SF State professor in the School of Theater and Dance. “I think student support would be welcome at demonstrations like this one.”
Rafael Kadaris, an organizer with the Bay Area chapter of activist group Refuse Fascism, said he heard a report early on Friday that ICE agents were on the UC Berkeley campus. The university’s newspaper, The Daily Californian, confirmed this but provided an update later in the afternoon that indicated the agents were there as part of an on campus event.
“No real change for the better has ever happened without students playing a key role,” said Kadaris.