SAN FRANCISCO ― Hundreds of activists gathered on Wednesday outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building here to protest the arrests of more than 150 undocumented immigrants in recent days.
Local activist groups organized the “emergency rally” to respond to the mass arrests in Northern California, just two weeks after more than 200 people were arrested in similar raids in the Los Angeles area.
Some 200 protesters convened outside the ICE building in downtown San Francisco under an overcast sky, demanding an end to the raids. Several groups of demonstrators surrounded the building, shouting chants, marching, locking arms and carrying signs while police and ICE security looked on.
Chants of “Shut down ICE” at a protest outside the agency’s building in San Franciscopic.twitter.com/4J7uWM67Ak— Antonia Blumberg (@AntoniaMiran) February 28, 2018
“We have come together today to show that the Northern California region stands together in denouncing the mass arrests that happened in the last three days,” Blanca Vazquez, a media spokesperson for the protest, told HuffPost.
Vazquez said activist groups had learned from ICE that an additional 10 or so arrests were conducted on Wednesday. ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At least half of those arrested as of Tuesday did not have criminal convictions other than their immigration violations, according to astatement from ICE. Those who did had convictions including “assault/battery, crimes against children, weapons charges and DUI,” ICE said.
In astatement on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued that the sweep “was intended solely to terrorize innocent immigrant families and instill fear in the hearts of our communities.”
“Undocumented, unafraid!” protesters chanted outside the ICE buildingpic.twitter.com/W2VHGHBn9v— Antonia Blumberg (@AntoniaMiran) February 28, 2018
The intended raids came to light on Saturday evening when Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaftold the local immigrant community she’d learned from “multiple credible sources” that, within the next 24 hours, ICE would be conducting operations in the Bay Area, including in Oakland.
Immigrant rights groups were on “high alert” following Schaaf’s announcement, Vazquez said.
In statement on Tuesday, ICE deputy Director Thomas Homan criticized Schaaf’s decision to warn immigrants of the raids, saying that “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community... thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
“The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens ― making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” Homan said.
Schaaf’s move also drew initialcriticism from some activistswho said her warning may have served to sow panic among immigrant communities. But the mayorstood by her decision, saying Tuesday that she feared the arrests would affect many undocumented immigrants who had no other criminal convictions ― which, indeed, turned out to be the case.
Smaller groups posted up around the building in a sit-in to protest immigration raidspic.twitter.com/phyCzg4nJF— Antonia Blumberg (@AntoniaMiran) February 28, 2018
Oakland, San Francisco and many other cities and counties in California have declared themselves to be “sanctuary cities,” refusing to work with federal officials to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
Last summer, the Oakland City Councilvoted to endan agreement the city had that allowed police to work with ICE. Oakland has since strengthened its status as a sanctuary city by barring city officials from cooperating with ICE in any capacity.
In January, the city doubled down on protecting undocumented residents after immigration agents raided about 100 7-Eleven stores across the country before sunrise toarrest undocumented workers. Dozens of the targeted stores were located in Northern California.
“It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws,” Schaafsaid in a statementon Tuesday. “We believe our community is safer when families stay together.”
San Francisco interim Mayor Mark Farrell also said his city is committed to maintaining its sanctuary status in spite of the ICE crackdown. “It is important that... everybody knows that we as a city will do everything we can to remain a sanctuary city,” Farrell told reporters at Wednesday’s protest.
“We are a sanctuary city and will do everything we can to protect our immigrant community.” -Interim San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrellpic.twitter.com/YNj2Albmdn— Antonia Blumberg (@AntoniaMiran) February 28, 2018
ICE has sent repeated hard-line messages since PresidentDonald Trumptook office last year, declaring that undocumented immigrants should “look over [their] shoulder” and that politicians in sanctuary states should be prosecuted.
Under the Trump administration’s policies, all undocumented people ― not just those with criminal histories ― have become targets for deportation. ICE arrests increased by 40 percent during Trump’s first eight months in office, compared to the same period the previous year.
ICE officials arrested 212 people and delivered 122 audit notices to businesses in the Los Angeles area earlier this month, and the agency has said it hopes toincrease work-site enforcementby 400 percent.
San Francisco activist Ann Jo Foo said her mother immigrated to the United States from China and worked as a seamstress at a sweatshop. “That’s how people survive,” Jo Foo told HuffPost.
“Immigrant communities are an integral part of our culture and our society, and they make up the heart and soul of our city,” she added. “We need to be vigilant and not just turn a blind eye to all the injustices going on right now.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.