Revolution #85, April 22, 2007

San Diego: Fascist Raids and Vigilantes Terrorize Immigrant Communities

Eight men in an unmarked white suburban pull up to a home in Vista, San Diego. They knock on the door, looking for a Mexican woman who has been ordered deported. The men are armed Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They search each room in the house and round up the family who lives there and question them in their living room. The woman ICE is looking for doesn’t live there, but they detain two men, including the father of a 3-month-old and an 8-year-old daughter in the house. It’s 5 a.m. and the men, still in their pajamas, are handcuffed and driven away in a van.

Similar scenes have taken place in residential neighborhoods at homes and apartment complexes throughout the San Diego area, in Mar Vista, Vista, Barrio Logan, Escondido, and Imperial County, among other outlying areas. In the past two weeks, 359 people have been detained in San Diego County. Raids at supermarkets, bus stops, and work places and checkpoints in areas where many Mexican immigrants (and also Central American, Vietnamese, and other immigrants) live have caused widespread fear among entire communities. Few people can be seen at shopping centers, laundromats, and parks as many are not leaving their homes out of fear of the ICE.

This situation has emboldened anti-immigrant fascist vigilantes like the Minutemen. They have been harassing day laborers and walking up to people asking them to show papers. And in a blatant and outrageous act of intimidation, these reactionaries recently videotaped students and parents at a Cesar Chavez Day march at Vista High School.

At an elementary school in Escondido, teachers couldn’t figure out at first why many parents hadn’t picked up their children well after school was over. Then they learned that ICE had been spotted in the area and word had spread throughout the neighborhood, causing fear and panic. A local weekly Spanish newspaper, El Latino, reported that they have received numerous messages reporting the whereabouts of the ICE agents. One voice message from a reader said, “They’re outside of Cesar Chavez school. I’ve never seen anything like this.” The danger of separation is so real that some families have developed emergency plans with friends and relatives to care for their children in case the parents are taken away.

ICE And the Fascist Crackdown

ICE was established in 2003 and is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. The San Diego raids are part of a larger nationwide operation called “Operation Return to Sender,” which began in May 2006 and has led to the arrests of more than 18,000 immigrants—many of whom were arrested in their homes. La Opinion reported that more than a third of these nationwide ICE arrests have been “collateral.” This means that if the so-called “fugitive”—many of whom have committed no violent crime and are only wanted for being in the country without papers—was not present at the targeted home or workplace, everyone else present was ordered to present papers and questioned, and then detained if they were identified as “illegal.”

What is happening in San Diego—and in many other areas around the country—is that modern-day slave catchers are hunting down human beings. They are going after people who are being forced to make a dangerous and often deadly journey across the border because of the ransacking and domination of their home countries by U.S. imperialism. In the process, they are heartlessly breaking up families. A field officer director for ICE's “detention and removal” operations in San Diego said, “Our message is—if you are ordered deported you should obey the immigration court's order. Otherwise, ICE is going to track you down and send you home.”

This whole offensive has come in the wake of the major upsurge of immigrant protest last spring, and the reactionary counter-offensive that followed. It forms a major part of the ruling class maneuvers to force immigrants into deeper servitude through a combination of repressive new laws, fascist mobilization of non-immigrants, and stepped-up police repression like this.

“Look at What the U.S. Has Done to Our Country...”

We talked to people in the areas affected by these raids in San Diego. Jesus and Abel, originally from Oaxaca in south Mexico, have lived in Escondido for 20 years. Jesus asked, “Why are they doing this?”

Abel said, “Look at what the U.S. has done to our country. They steal the natural resources and then say that they give Mexico all this aid. Why don’t they provide the people who work the land in the countryside with the technology and machinery necessary for people in Mexico to be independent and succeed? That’s why people have to come here [the U.S.].”

Jesus added, “The situation in Mexico is desperate. The people are starving. If the U.S. government continues with these raids and reinforces the border and makes it more difficult or impossible for people to come here illegally, then they’re feeding a situation where they’ll take away the only alternative people have to survive, and it will make things even more desperate in Mexico. That’s a really big problem for the U.S. because we’re neighbors.”

Fear... and Anger

Many people expressed fear and anguish at the situation, but there was also anger at being used as beasts of burden and treated like criminals. Jorge is from Veracruz, Mexico. He arrived in San Diego last summer after defying death to cross the Arizona desert. His wife is back in Veracruz with their baby son, and she depends on the money he sends home to get treatment for leukemia. “I work like an animal, very hard. That’s my life. Before I used to go to the park for a little while on my day off, but now I can’t even do that. I go from home to work and from work to home. I go out at night a couple of times a week to buy food to cook, but other than that I never go out—my wife’s life depends on it.”

Ricardo has lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years. He said that for that entire time he’s felt imprisoned: “I haven’t seen my family in Mexico for over 10 years. I communicate with them like a criminal in a prison, by letters and phone calls. But we, the undocumented, are no criminals, we are human beings.”

These intensified raids across the country and Gestapo-like round-ups of people at workplaces, in neighborhoods, near schools, in shopping centers, and at busy intersections need to be met by massive and determined resistance—by the immigrants who are being targeted, and by all those who stand against injustice.

In an important development in that direction, on Saturday, April 7, an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people marched in Los Angeles in the largest immigrant rights protest since the outpourings of millions last spring. The marchers demanded an end to the ICE raids and other attacks on immigrants. Many in the march had a defiant message to deliver: “It's not just one of us... it's not a hundred... there's a lot of us now... count us carefully.”

This, together with recent resistance in San Rafael, California (see “Resistance to ICE Raids in San Rafael, CA: 'They came for the immigrants, and we were all there'" in Revolution #83 Online Edition,, and the ferment now building toward demonstrations on May 1, is a good sign, and something that must urgently be built on.

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