16 arrested during downtown protests

Police arrested 16 people who blocked traffic Tuesday in San Francisco’s Financial District as part of a protest that called for an end to federal deportations that organizers say target immigrants from Central America.

Over 200 protesters rallied near the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 630 Sansome St. just after 10 a.m.

Ten protesters chained themselves together at the corner of Sansome and Washington streets, blocking traffic in all directions.

Additionally, six protesters chained together and also blocked traffic at the corner of Sansome and Washington streets.

The chained protesters refused to move when asked by police and were ultimately taken into custody. San Francisco police spokeswoman Officer Grace Gatpandan said they were cited for refusing to comply with an officer’s order and failure to yield the traffic right-of-way.

The protest, organized by a coalition of immigration rights groups, was part of a statewide day of action that included a similar rally held in Los Angeles.

The organizers are calling on ICE officials to recognize Central American asylum seekers as refugees of what they say is an undeclared war happening in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

“We need to recognize people currently fleeing Central America as legitimate refugees and also political asylum seekers” because of the violence there, Berkeley student Christopher Lopez, 22, said.

Manuel De Paz, who works with the Berkeley-based organization East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, said the protest is meant to put pressure on government officials and to create awareness about the violence happening in Central America.

“We know that many of these people are fleeing because of gang violence, so many of these children are at serious risk of losing their lives … People are very afraid,” De Paz said.

“I’m doing this for one of my cousins who was deported twice in the same year after he tried to flee after being jumped into the Mara Salva Trucha [gang], and unfortunately the detention center didn’t recognize this as a reason for political asylum and unfortunately he was deported back to Honduras,” Lopez said.

Lopez was one of the 16 protesters chained together and was ultimately arrested.

Protester Itzel Calvo Medina, also one of the 16 arrested, called on San Francisco to continue its “sanctuary city” policies that limit how local authorities can cooperate with federal immigration officials.

ICE officials confirmed that enforcement action was conducted earlier this month targeting families that had been given final orders of removal, but said no arrests were made in California.

“We fully respect the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. The Department of Homeland Security remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on its priorities,” ICE officials said in a statement.