While much of the local media’s attention was focused on President Trump’s March 13 visit to the border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, a team of ICE agents deployed throughout Escondido early the same morning and arrested 22 people.
The agents were allegedly targeting people who had deportation orders, but they also picked up undocumented immigrants who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In ICE jargon, those arrests are known as “collaterals.”
Later in the week, ICE announced the three-day operation netted a total 115 people, including seven in Imperial County. Most of them – 65 – had no criminal convictions.
This is sadly nothing new in our region since Trump took office. Just days before his border visit, a video depicting the forcible arrest of a National City woman in front of her pleading daughters went viral on social media.
Despite the president’s rhetoric that his administration is primarily focused on criminal undocumented people, such as gang members and drug smugglers, the reality is much different. Trump’s mass deportation dragnet is sweeping up vast numbers of people who have no criminal record.
This is especially true in our local communities. According to the agency’s own figures, ICE’s San Diego field office – which covers San Diego and Imperial counties – arrested 2,259 people between October and December of 2017. Most of them, 1,622, had no criminal record.
In fact, 72 percent of ICE arrests our region were of “noncriminals,” the highest rate in the country. But statistics alone don’t tell the full story.
Each arrest represents a father or a mother, a breadwinner or a student, a family torn apart. Taken together, the numbers epitomize our broken immigration system – one that betrays our values as a nation of immigrants who believe in compassion, equality, inclusion and justice for all.
If Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent visit to California is any indication, this situation will get much worse before it gets any better.
Sessions blasted our state for enacting laws, such as the California Values Act (SB 54), that limit cooperation between federal immigration agents and local police, whose responsibility is to protect and serve local residents. The fact is, border communities and others that have adopted so-called “sanctuary” policies are some of the safest communities in the nation.
As the inflammatory, baseless rhetoric coming from the White House continues unabated and ICE raids become more commonplace, it’s clear that the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda is having real consequences for us all. It fosters fear and distrust of law enforcement amongst law-abiding immigrants and makes our region less safe.
For this reason, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties joined several other local organizations, including the San Diego Organizing Project, the Employee Rights Center and the Jewish Family Service of San Diego, to form the San Diego Rapid Response Network. The network provides a 24-hour hotline where people can report immigration enforcement activities, such as raids, checkpoints and arrests.
The network provides free emergency assistance, legal support and other resources. It also monitors and documents immigration enforcement actions. Most importantly, it serves to reassure people living in fear – and those who provoke fear – that no one stands alone in our community.
You can help us fight cruel and dehumanizing immigration enforcement by spreading the word about the Rapid Response Network in your home, work, school, congregation and on social media. To volunteer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edward Sifuentes is the senior communications strategist with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.