Border Arrests to Continue as Family Detentions Spark Protests at Border and in San Francisco

Protesters marched toward the Otay Mesa Detention Center as similar protests occurred across the state Saturday.  (John Sepulvado/KQED)

Updated June 23, 5:50 p.m.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials told KQED they will detain every adult they believe enters the U.S. illegally, in accordance with President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on undocumented immigration.

This new statement added more confusion to what is happening on the southern U.S. border, as it was previously reported that Border Patrol agents would not detain adults who crossed the border with their children.

“Family unity will he maintained for families crossing border illegally,” according to the new statement released Saturday by CPB, meaning families would no longer be separated by agents, following an executive order from Trump on Wednesday that purportedly ended the practice.

It is unclear where these families would be housed, as a current court agreement prohibits children from staying in detention facilities for more that 20 days. CPB did not elaborate.

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While the new statement created confusion about what was happening to detained families, California religious leaders organized a protest outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, one of many happening along the border on Saturday.

“We’re sending in our white brothers and sisters,” said Rev. Ben McBride of Oakland. “They’ve volunteered to get arrested in non-violent actions, and we’re volunteering to have their backs.”

Volunteers made keys, which represent the migrants locked up in the Otay Mesa Detention Center, to hand out to protesters.
Volunteers made keys, which represent the migrants locked up in the Otay Mesa Detention Center, to hand out to protesters. (John Sepulvado/KQED)

In an effort to unite “different tribes,” as McBride put it, he called on white participants of a massive border protest to stand at the front of the large civil disobedience protest. Organized by the religious social justice group PICO, the protest sought to unify white women opposed to Trump’s policies, Black Lives Matter activists protesting mass incarceration and conservative Latino evangelicals appalled by the separation of undocumented families.

The white protesters — some of whom came from conservative enclaves like Norco and Lake Elsinore in the Inland Empire — were trained by Oakland-based Black Lives Matter activists in a Latino church just north of Tijuana.

Those who volunteered to be arrested wore orange plastic strips on their wrists to identify themselves in a crowd.

“The orange thing on my wrist indicates I’m willing to get arrested to protest unjust laws,” said Rebecca Gordon of San Francisco. “We were given this so we could be organized and disciplined.”

Earlier Saturday, more than 500 people gathered at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco to call for family unity in the face of the ongoing situation at the border.

The Women's March San Francisco co-sponsored the event along with the Latino Community Foundation, NAACP SF, the Interfaith Movement of Human Integrity, and a long list of labor, faith and political groups.

Protesters gathered at the "Families Belong Together" rally Saturday morning at Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco.
Protesters gathered at the "Families Belong Together" rally Saturday morning at Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco. (David Markus/KQED)

San Francisco Mayor-elect London Breed and other city and state leaders spoke at the rally, including former San Francisco Supervisor and current chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, David Campos, who described how he was detained when he came to the country without documentation at the age of 11.

"The experience of being in a jail is something that stays with you for the rest of your life," Campos said. "And as traumatic as it was for me, at least I had my dad in that cell, and my little sisters were with my mom."

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that 100 children are being held at facilities or in foster care in California.

Olga Talamante, the recently retired executive director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation, says "people of conscience" need to locate kids brought to the state and hold constant vigils to monitor their movements.

"There are some organizations that are going to try to do DNA testing, which is good, to try to find out what children belong to what parents, that's great. I think we need to be the social DNA," Talamante said, "to make sure that we follow where these children are being taken because they're not going to tell us."

Poland-born San Francisco resident Ania Pullian says the humane treatment of immigrants is the most pressing issue of the moment.

"No child should be left alone without parents," Pullian said. "I come from a country that was hit hard by Nazi Germany, and this hits close to home."

In San Ysidro, however, almost 100 people prepared to be arrested before departing to the border detention facilities. The mood was somber before McBride took to the pulpit, speaking before a diverse group that included conservative Christians as well as liberal and Orthodox Jews.

Speaking in his booming voice, McBride led the congregation in a call-and-response sermon that felt more like a pre-game pep speech.

“Just as Jesus exorcised the demons in Israel, we are going to exorcise the demon of white supremacy from our county,” he said, as the church roared in response.

Coach buses ferried people from the church to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, where they rallied outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center. The protesters were joined by California state Sen. Kevin de León, who wrote California's "sanctuary state" law.

He said the federal government had "kidnapped" the children being detained and compared the U.S. government to North Korea's.

More than 90 people ignored a "no trespassing" sign, as well as the direction of private security guards who told the protesters to stop from advancing on the property. Behind them, some 2,500 protesters chanted in solidarity.

At one point, two guards pulled tear gas guns and held them in their hands, walkie-talkies to their ears, waiting for confirmation to fire. Ultimately, they lowered their weapons.

Detention center management took a strategy of waiting out the disobedience action. In an email, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic, the organization that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center, said CoreCivic does not "enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release" and referred further questions to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite several threats of arrests, as of 5:15 p.m. Saturday, no arrests were made on-site, although a few people were detained several blocks away for laying down in the road.

This post has been updated to include a response from CoreCivic and details of the protest.