Bay Area Immigrant Advocates Confirm Arrests in Northern California After Schaaf's Warning

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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks at a press conference on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, sharing her concerns that federal immigration action in the Bay Area is imminent. (Raquel Maria Dillon/KQED)

Updated 12:05 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27

Immigration attorneys say at least 23 people have been detained in Northern California this week in what appears to be a widespread federal enforcement operation targeting the region.

The arrests come after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned about an imminent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation in the Bay Area in a statement released Saturday evening, but it is unclear if the two are connected.

"Deportation officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) conduct targeted enforcement operations on a daily basis in Northern California and across the nation," said ICE spokesman James Schwab in a statement. "While the vast majority of cities in America do cooperate with ICE, others force ICE to assign additional resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the general public and the aliens at greater risk and increasing the incidence of collateral arrests. Sanctuary cities and states are not immune from federal law."

Hamid Yazdan Panah, an attorney with the Northern California Rapid Response Network and the San Francisco Bar Association, said hotlines organized by immigration activists across the Bay Area have seen a spike in calls from worried immigrants and advocates wanting to help.

On Sunday, Schaaf elaborated on her decision to warn immigrant communities about the possibly pending actions, but didn't provide details about how she found out about them.


The mayor said she got the information from “multiple credible sources.”

"My information did not come through official channels. It came from multiple sources that cited extremely credible sources for their information. They do not wish to be shared," she told reporters at a Sunday press conference at the Unity Council in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland.

Schaaf encouraged residents to consult local resources such as Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland to understand their legal rights in case they are detained or know someone who needs legal representation. She said that no one has to open the door to ICE officers unless they have a particular kind of warrant.

Oakland police officers are under "strict orders" not to cooperate with ICE activities, she added.

"Spreading rumors of ICE activity has been used as a tactic to strike fear and paralysis in the immigrant communities," Schaaf said on Sunday. "This is something I thought about very carefully before bringing this information forward, but due to the reliability of my sources and the fact that I received this from multiple sources, I felt that it was my duty to share the information."

Immigrant advocates say a year of active organizing means that the phone networks, interpreters and legal resources are in place to help people when they can.

Malena Mayorga, an organizer with Mujers Unidas y Activas and the coordinator for the Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership, said the message to undocumented immigrants is to empower themselves by knowing their rights, and don't panic. Immigrant activists advise families to refuse to answer questions from ICE agents, understand when they don't have to open the door, make plans about where to send children, how to communicate, who to notify and how to get help in case a family member is apprehended.

Schaaf said she consulted with lawyers before issuing her statement. Ultimately, she decided that because she did not get the information through official channels, she felt it was her legal and ethical obligation to share it.

She also said the possible operations were civil deportation actions, not based on criminal investigations. She explained that her priority is the safety of all Oakland residents, and the people targeted in these actions are not a threat to public safety.

She said she felt confident that it is within the city of Oakland's legal rights not "to expend our precious law enforcement resources on assisting the federal government on what is a civil, federal matter."

Oakland school officials have strict procedures in place to protect students and families, and Oakland police officers are prohibited from taking part in ICE operations, according to Schaaf. San Francisco and many other cities in the Bay Area have similar policies.

California law prohibits business owners from helping immigration agents with enforcement and bars federal agents from going into employee-only areas.

Schaaf said she does not have any information on the specific places where immigration agents may conduct their operations.

ICE agents arrested 212 people in the Los Angeles area during a five-day operation in mid-February, according to the agency.

The San Francisco Chronicle publicized a rumored mass immigration enforcement operation targeting the Bay Area in January, which so far has yet to occur.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo released a statement on Sunday saying his office had not been able to confirm any rumored immigration action.

“Beyond learning of a few isolated arrests, we have not yet been able to confirm the veracity of rumors about any widespread ICE operations in the Bay Area. Regardless of the truth of these rumors, my message to our immigrant residents remains the same: we have your back,” the statement said.

Liccardo urged people to use emergency services when needed, noting that “police officers and first responders are here to serve our community,” and do not disclose immigration status to ICE.

This post contains reporting from KQED's Alex Emslie and Bay City News.