Immigrant Raid Undermines San Francisco's Sanctuary Status


SAN FRANCISCO -- Immigration agents entered a private home in San Francisco on Sept. 11, 2008, arresting six undocumented immigrants in what residents see as the most recent evidence that this is no longer a "sanctuary city."

"They say this is a sanctuary city, but they're throwing us away like garbage," says Freddie Herrera, 21, who was in the middle of dinner with his family when he heard the doorbell ring.

"Sanctuary doesn't affect ICE's efforts to enforce immigration law," explains Lori Haley, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "ICE officers are sworn to enforce federal law."

But Jamal Dajani, chairman of the city's Immigrant Rights Commission, disagrees. He calls the arrests last Thursday "a total violation of the sanctuary ordinance. This is exactly why the sanctuary ordinance was created," he says.

In 1989, San Francisco passed the "City of Refuge" Ordinance (Sanctuary Ordinance) that prohibits city employees from helping ICE with immigration arrests unless required by federal or state law or a warrant.

The fact that ICE agents entered a private residence with nothing more than a deportation order, Dajani says, is "totally different" from entering with a warrant for a crime. "They're going into private homes, which means the city can't protect its own residents."

"If this is allowed," adds Dajani, "it basically ends any kind of discussion about sanctuary cities -- whether it's San Francisco or New York."

Julia Harumi, a lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, says her organization has seen incidents in the past of ICE agents entering homes without consent. "If they didn't have reasonable suspicion that the residents were undocumented," she says, "then detaining them would violate the Fourth Amendment."

The agents that came to the door of a San Francisco home last Thursday were members of ICE Fugitive Operations, a unit dedicated to locating, arresting and removing individuals with outstanding deportation orders. One of the residents opened the door, and the agents found the individual they were looking for, as well as two others who also had outstanding deportation orders, says Haley.

Jilma Herrera (Freddie Herrera's sister), Carlos Gonzalez (Herrera's brother-in-law) and Roxana Cuellas, are currently in ICE custody in Arizona pending removal to Honduras.

The other three undocumented immigrants, Freddie Herrera, Eufemia Pineda and Ana Ruth Quintanilla, did not have outstanding deportation orders and were released with electronic monitoring devices on their ankles.

Pineda, 34, says she got home at 6:30 p.m. to find immigration agents in her living room.

"My kids were the first thing I thought about," says Pineda, who lives in the 10-person house with her husband, Roger Omar Cruz, 41, and their two children, Daniel, 7, and Keren, 2 years old.

Pineda, a childcare worker who has lived in San Francisco for nine years, hugs her son close to her. "Thank God my kids weren't there," she says. "What would they have thought to see me being taken away?"

While they were being detained the six immigrants, who are devout Evangelicals, prayed together. "My cousin Jilma started speaking in tongues," recalls Pineda. "It was the presence of God. And they told her to shut up."

But Pineda says her faith kept her going. "I felt a supernatural force only God could give," she says. "We know what we believe in."

Ana Ruth Quintanilla, 26, who moved to San Francisco two years ago, says the six immigrants were placed in a cold cell. "I told them, "We're not criminals,' and they said, 'Your crime is being here," she recalls.

"But I'm here out of necessity," explains Quintanilla, who is supporting her children back home. Quintanilla works as a cook at Burger King, and sends money every month to her three children, ages 10, 8 and 4, who live with their father in El Salvador.

Her fiancée, 30-year-old Osmin Ortiz Gonzalez, wasn't home when the agents arrived. He says the only thing that has allowed them to get through this difficult time is their faith. "We're foreigners in this land," he says, "but God is here with us."

Pineda's husband, Roger Omar Cruz, 41, who works at a marble company, says he believes God will prevent all of them from being deported.

The night after the raid, the household gathered with their family and friends. Their pastor, Abel Garcia, lead a prayer, and each person prayed aloud to remain in this country and not be separated from family members.

Herrera, Pineda and Quintanilla will go before an immigration judge who will decide whether to deport them or let them stay in the country. Until then, they must wear electronic monitoring devices, even though none of them has a criminal record. They are not allowed to leave San Francisco. They cannot leave the house before 6:30 a.m. and must be home by 11:30 p.m.

Herrera lifts up his pant leg to reveal the electronic monitoring device on his ankle. "It's a iPod," he jokes. "I listen to songs on it."

Quintanilla doesn't know how long they will have to wear the ankle bracelets.

"This is a horrible experience that I'll never forget," says Quintanilla. "I'm just waiting for ICE to come. It's like a cross I have to bear."

Herrera has one piece of advice for other immigrants in the same situation: "Don't open the door to anyone you don't know," he says.

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