Marisela 2

Immigration in the Bay Area

Written by Marisella Esparza

I was born in Oakland on April 24, 1991 to immigrant parents. Growing up it was a normal thing to assume everyone’s parents came from some part of Latin America. It was routine for us kids to go with our parents to visit immigration lawyers in San Francisco because our parents would take us everywhere as their personal translators.  When I was nine, I had my first encounter with a judge and a courtroom. My mom’s lawyer hadn’t shown up and the judge told my mom to come back in five years and he would make his decision about her case then. The years passed and I rarely thought about the judge’s words. I began to see that the issue of immigration was highly contested. My family and friends were no longer only immigrants coming to the U.S to make a better life for themselves and their families. Now the federal government was turning them into illegal immigrants, criminals of the state.

On February 28, 2006 I came home at 3:30 p.m. to find my dad looking very solemn. I instantly knew something was wrong. He didn’t get out of work until 6pm. I asked where my mom was and he just looked and me and said “she’s gone.” I broke down crying. My mom’s court date had been that day and she was ordered to sign voluntary deportation, after she signed she was placed in jail to await her deportation. At 6pm she called me and told me not to worry. She promised me that my quincenera would not be cancelled and that she would be there.

In that same year, checkpoints, raids, and employee verification became common all over the Bay Area and throughout the rest of the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began going to schools and work places to find people and deport them. In reaction, the Latino population rose up and decided to fight these injustices. On May 1st marches were organized demanding the government to stop what they were doing and to pass a comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of moving toward immigration reform, the local, state, and national government began to take more anti-immigrant measures. They knew that they could not continue all of their practices for long thus they hurriedly tried to deport as many immigrants as they could. ICE would go to schools and question students, neighbors were pinned by ICE against one another, services were being denied to immigrants, and everything in the power of the government was done in order to make immigrants leave voluntarily or to expose them so they could be deported.

In 1989 a voter- approved ordinance was established in San Francisco making it the first Sanctuary City in the U.S. This ordinance prohibits city employees from collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to investigate or arrest a person ( This would also include denying ICE the right to retrieve information from the city about persons residing within the city’s jurisdiction. This act by San Francisco set the example for other cities to become sanctuary cities.

However, in 2008 the Sanctuary City began to crumble. Since 2006, San Francisco and other sanctuary cities were receiving a lot of pressure from government to begin enacting anti-immigration policies. Those who agreed with this stance were looking for any way to change public opinion against the immigrant community. In June 2008 the event to turn opinion happened.  

Edwin Ramos, an undocumented immigrant, part of La Mara Salvatrucha (a gang first established in El Salvador that has spread throughout Central and North America) shot three members of the Bologna family, a middle class Italian family. This isolated incident became the only fact that people knew about immigration; the immigrant community became inextricably linked to violence in San Francisco. As a result, the laws in San Francisco began to change. Before, no crimes were being reported to ICE, but now all charges, misdemeanors, and felonies--even without a conviction--are reported. Today, even when charges are cleared and no one is convicted of a crime, the person’s information is still reported and ICE quickly goes to the person’s home or work place to deport.

At the national and state level other anti-immigrant laws had been passed since 2005. These laws included e-verify, which was aimed at all businesses to stop employing and began firing all employees who were illegal. Other laws stopped issuing driver's licenses to anyone who did not have papers. Additionally, checkpoints which were said to monitor driving drunk, in reality were checking for driver’s licenses and if you did not have one that meant you were undocumented which in turn would mean your information would be forwarded to ICE.

However, none of these laws were implemented in San Francisco before the incident with Edwin Ramos. Different interest groups had tried to have them enforced, but had not succeeded. After the incident, Mayor Newsom decided that immigrants were a problem and began to enforce all of the laws, thus changing the Sanctuary City. Currently, San Francisco’s official stance is that of a Sanctuary Ordinance, but its policies and the reality of the people living in San Francisco would tell a different story.

Marisela 1Before 2006 I was ignorant of my own situation as a child of immigrant parents and of the situation of the immigrant community as a whole because I didn’t feel it affected me. Soon I learned otherwise; I was in the heart of the matter. I became knowledgeable about the issue. I learned the history of immigration not only from Latin America to the U.S, but also European, African, and Asian immigration to the U.S. I learned about the different impacts and contributions that the immigrant community made to the U.S. Then I took action. I worked with Catholic Worker in Oakland that helps recent immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. Also, I worked with East Bay Sanctuary Covenant with refugees seeking asylum because of violence in their country.

Most recently, I have begun educating peers because I have found that there is a lack of knowledge on this issue. Stereotypes, media, and peers commonly misinform people. In class I have seen that professors do not focus on the recent changes in immigration and tend to only speak about immigration in the 1960s--1980s. Though that can be relevant in understanding the issue, I feel that it is more important to focus on what is happening now in the communities we live in, and how this issue affects us all.

Stories like my own have been repeated countless times to other families and other worse tales have been ignored and silenced. The reality of these anti-immigration laws and the consequences they have of tearing families apart isn’t broadcasted in the news. And the benefits that immigrants bring to the U.S and California economy have been distorted so that only the horrific tales of single individuals committing atrocious acts reach mass media. This cannot continue. The truth needs to come to light. We all need to start sharing our stories, becoming informed, and acting to make a change.