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.
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
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 (sfgsa.org). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before 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.
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.