Undocumented young activists risk arrest to block a deportation bus and call for immigration reform
FALSE IMPRISONMENT, REAL CONSEQUENCES
Around 5:30pm at the ICE bus blockade, the SFPD closed off the intersection and told activists they would risk arrest if they didn't move out of the way. The larger group of supporters squeezed onto the sidewalk, but those who had set out to perform civil disobedience stayed planted where they were.
It seemed the SFPD would arrest them at any time. A police officer crouched down and spoke with them in a conversational tone as they sat with their hands clasped. "I know what you guys are trying to do," he said, adding that he wasn't trying to stop them from speaking out about their cause. But he asked them to stand up and let the bus get on its way. They refused.
San Francisco has been a Sanctuary City since 1989, which means city employees are prohibited from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with immigration investigations or arrests except in cases where it's required by federal or state law, or a warrant.
If they were taken into custody by the SFPD and charged with misdemeanors, the activists had reason to believe they would be spared from deportation. Added protection for undocumented San Francisco residents will soon take effect under legislation recently approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Authored by Sup. John Avalos, it prohibits local law enforcement from honoring ICE requests to hold detainees for an additional 48 hours, except in very narrow circumstances. Federal authorities issue those requests to allow enough time to take those undocumented individuals into custody — even if they lack probable cause showing that the person was involved in criminal activity. Their status is detected via S-Comm, an information-sharing program between federal agencies that links fingerprint databases.
But a debate had apparently started between the two agencies over whether the protesters were under SFPD's jurisdiction, or ICE's. Prasad said federal agents threatened the activists with charges of felony false imprisonment if they did not end their protest immediately. That charge essentially means holding someone against his or her will, but "they're not blocking the door," he pointed out. (Some armed ICE agents, meanwhile, did happen to be standing in front of the bus door.)
The prospect of facing federal felony charges carried potentially grave consequences. Just before the start of the protest, Santos described what his own ICE bus trip had been like. He'd boarded it with about 35 other passengers, mostly men. As they crossed the Bay Bridge, he felt a pit in his stomach as he looked back at the Ferry Building, wondering if he was going to be separated from his family for good.
Santos and the other detainees were transported to Oakland International Airport, brought through a special security area, and led onto a plane. The flight stopped in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino, picking up more detainees at each location. Then the flight touched down in San Diego, where some were taken off the plane and sent across the border to Tijuana.
Santos' journey ended at an ICE detention center in Florence, Ariz. He said there were 14 bunks in a room with a single toilet, which was not well maintained. He had no idea how long he was going to remain there, but it ultimately turned out to be two weeks.
Extended family on the East Coast helped his parents locate a lawyer in Arizona, and the lawyer helped him qualify for bail, which his parents posted. He was released, and finally returned to San Francisco after 16 hours on a Greyhound bus.
Eventually, the whole matter was dropped because he benefitted from prosecutorial discretion under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, federal policy enacted in June 2012 directing ICE to give special consideration to individuals who immigrated illegally to the US as children.
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