Attorneys: At Least 22 Immigrants Arrested in Bay Area This Week as Thousands Fear ICE Raids

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Attorneys Lisa Knox (L), Bianca Dueñas and Etan Newman approach the ICE facilities in Stockton on July 11, 2019, to try to meet with any immigrants held there. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Immigration authorities have arrested 22 people in the Bay Area this week, attorneys say, as immigrant communities and advocates are on high alert for raids reportedly beginning this Sunday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents made some of the arrests in Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties since last Sunday, said Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, an attorney who works pro bono with local networks set up to quickly respond to apprehensions.

Attorneys in the Bay Area say they normally get only a few reports each week of such arrests.

"Based on our past experience it's very unusual for people to be arrested on Sundays. And so that is a big red flag for us" — a sign of perhaps bigger enforcement activity, said Reyes Savalza, a staff immigration attorney at Pangea Legal Services in San Jose. At least two of the cases that immigration attorneys confirmed this week were “collateral” arrests, usually of other immigrants who happened to be on the scene.

ICE is reportedly starting an operation on Sunday that will target 2,000 people nationwide with court deportation orders over multiple days, but also include collateral arrests. One of the 10 cities expected to be targeted is Los Angeles, according to NPR; it’s not known if any city in the Bay Area is on that list.

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Bay Area lawyers were trying to figure out whether even more people were arrested this week and the kinds of cases ICE agents were targeting. But so far, attorneys have had problems reaching immigrants they knew were just taken into government custody, Reyes Savalza said.

"We don't have all the information because of ICE’s unwillingness to talk to us, and just a lack of transparency and accountability as to what exactly is going on," he said

Another immigration attorney, Etan Newman, said two of his clients who had been recently arrested were not allowed to speak with him until right before they were deported.

On Thursday, San Francisco and Stockton immigration officials stated they will refuse pro bono attorneys to reach out to potential clients and will not inform newly arrested noncitizens that free legal help is available.

In response, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on Friday to prevent ICE from blocking immigration legal aid nonprofits from providing services to the people who may be arrested this weekend.

ICE spokesman Paul Prince declined to provide more information on the agency’s policies for access to attorneys seeking to contact people recently arrested. He also declined to confirm on Wednesday if any larger-than-usual operation was underway in the Bay Area.

"We do not comment on potential or ongoing law enforcement actions due to the safety of our agents and because it's law enforcement-sensitive information," said Prince.

But arrests were happening elsewhere in the state: ICE said it had detained 20 people with final deportation orders in San Diego over the last week.

In the Bay Area, Reyes Savalza said the legal aid networks had confirmed that ICE agents drove several of those apprehended to a facility in Stockton — a first "processing center" before immigrants are shipped to longer-term detention facilities or bused directly to the Mexican border for deportation.

Immigrant advocate Luis Magaña said he had been camped out at the parking lot of the Stockton ICE field offices since Monday, keeping a close watch on the number of agency vans leaving or entering the black metal garage doors to the facility.

"We are very worried about the immigration situation right now, and so part of my job here is to observe the movements of la migra, so we can verify rumors and help the community to be prepared," said Magaña, a former farmworker who has lived in the Stockton area since the 1970s.

Magaña, with the Organization of Migrant Agricultural Workers, said he posts updates on social media to followers that include undocumented day laborers and farmworkers, as well as attorneys concerned about the Trump administration's threat of a crackdown.

"It's like we are taking a thermometer reading of the level of activity of ICE agents on a particular day," he said.

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Since President Trump was elected with promises to unleash mass deportations, San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara and other counties have ramped up their budgets to expand legal representation for immigrants who can’t afford an attorney.

Community members are asked to call hotlines to report immigration arrests they witness. Volunteers or staffers then verify the incident and send pro bono immigration lawyers to counsel detained migrants.

Attorneys say it is key to reach people as soon as possible after they are apprehended by ICE so that they are informed of their rights and have a shot at fighting deportation.

But since February 2018, when lawyers noticed more immigrants from the Bay Area were being processed at the Stockton facility, they have complained that ICE staffers often don't allow prompt access to immigrants — who have a right to an attorney — when they call.

A car full of immigration attorneys, including Reyes Savalza and Newman, arrived at the Stockton ICE offices on Thursday to try to see any immigrants held there and get answers from ICE on its policy to allow contact with attorneys.

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"Given that we've already seen an uptick in enforcement actions, it's really important that we know — in the event that there is a larger enforcement action — how we can access folks who are processed in Stockton," said Lisa Knox of Oakland’s Centro Legal de la Raza, which is part of the rapid response network in Alameda County.

When the lawyers reached the Stockton facility, a KQED reporter saw an ICE supervisor decline to tell them if people were being held. He said his officers would try to put attorneys' calls through, but only if the lawyers could provide last names of the detained people — which none of them had.

Knox worries the problems that they’ve had with reaching people facing deportation will be magnified in the event of mass arrests.

"Often we get calls from people who witnessed ICE detaining someone, but weren’t able to get a name or more information about them," she said.

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