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Bay Area demands Newsom release ICE detainees, stop prison transfers

Bay Area demands Newsom release ICE detainees, stop prison transfers

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Joining a statewide day of action demanding the immediate release of detainees from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, hundreds of protesters filled San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza Aug. 8, then marched to San Francisco’s ICE headquarters at 630 Sansome Street. 

Various activists including doctors, artists and politicians addressed the crowd, calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to release not only children and the medically vulnerable, but all detainees from ICE facilities, and to stop transfers from California’s prisons, a practice that has led to increased spread of COVID-19. 

The day of action followed the arrest of 14 activists who chained themselves together and to Newsom’s home at the end of July, demanding he release prisoners as COVID-19 spreads through California’s prisons and detention centers. 

“ICE continues to hold individuals, families, and even children, who are fleeing desperate situations and just exercising the human right to migrate,” said AJ Napolis, from the Committee to Close the Camps and Free the Children, in a press release. 

“COVID-19 has made conditions even worse,” Napolis continued, “with no opportunity to safely social distance, and Governor Newsom is sleeping on the job.” 

Prisons and ICE facilities have both been widely criticized for unsafe conditions and overcrowding. To compensate, ICE’s Adelanto Detention Facility near Los Angeles has allegedly been spraying industrial-grade disinfectant HDQ Neutral throughout the facilities every 15-30 minutes, causing rashes and bloody noses, according to complaints received by immigrant rights organizations. 

The protest was sponsored by the Bay Area Free Them All Coalition and supported by other immigrant rights organizations, including the San Francisco LowRider Council, which led a more than 20-car caravan through the city and led protesters up Sansome St. to the ICE office. 

“It is very clear that we are not facing one, but two pandemics: COVID-19 and this humanitarian crisis,” said Patricia Bahamonde, executive director of the Global Refugee Relief Fund, which supports grassroots volunteer organizations. 

Towering over the crowd was a 15-foot high puppet of Newsom cloaked in black, holding an hourglass in one hand and a key in the other. 

Upon reaching the ICE office on Sansome St., protesters began dipping their hands in red paint and pressed what were made to look like bloody handprints onto the walls of the building. Others began painting a mural on the asphalt that read simply, “FREE THEM.” 

Speakers demanded Newsom halt prison transfers into ICE facilities, which increased the risk of spread of COVID-19 within ICE centers, but also in other countries—ICE has continued immigrant deportations throughout the pandemic. 

With over 21,000 detainees in custody nationwide, ICE reports 4,743 positive cases of COVID-19 and five deaths since testing began in February, however the ICE website states some of these individuals may no longer be in their custody, meaning they could be among the likely thousands deported since the pandemic began. 

ICE has likely carried out at least 232 deportation flights to Latin American and Caribbean countries between February and May of this year, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. 

Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has reported 9,736 confirmed cases as of Aug. 20, with over 1,000 new cases just in the past two weeks. 

In July, more than 40 assemblymembers, state senators and local legislators across California signed a letter to the governor, requesting he make an executive order to stop transfers into ICE facilities. 

Former District 11 Supervisor John Avalos said Newsom is not the only politician with the power to close ICE facilities and release detainees. Pointing up at the ICE office, he said, “This building right here is held up by all who work for the federal government.” 

“We are in the midst of a 550-year genocide,” Avalos continued, comparing the government’s inaction in stopping the spread of COVID-19 to European colonizers giving smallpox-laden blankets to Indigenous people in the Americas.  

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District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton rallied the crowd on how to fight the country’s “tyrannous regime.” 

“We’re gonna do it by standing and marching, we’re gonna do it by going to the polls in November, making sure that we show and demonstrate our voices, by and through our votes,” Walton said. 

Finally, many speakers expressed their disappointment with ICE’s general lack of humanity. 

UCSF doctor and Do No Harm Coalition member Adali Martinez mentioned that her father’s deportation when she was a child caused only a fraction of the trauma many are experiencing with ICE’s deportations of immigrants. 

“The more trauma that you face, the more likely you are to have chronic diseases like asthma and obesity. And Governor Newsom, he knows that too,” Martinez said. “Because the California Surgeon General has dedicated her career to addressing trauma.”  

Paralegal and self-described “DREAMer” Judith Garcia and her 6-year-old daughter, Abigail, agreed with Walton and Martinez. 

“This is probably the worst it’s ever been,” Garcia said, explaining that although she cannot vote, politicians need to be held accountable. Meanwhile, her daughter interjected: “Families cannot be separated.” 

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to provide immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors a pathway to residency or legal employment was deliberated by Congress for 18 years before a version became law in 2019. 

Garcia held a sign that read “I was that old when I broke the law,” with an arrow pointing down to her daughter Abigail, whose sign read, “This is what a law breaker looks like.” 

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