A few hundred demonstrators from multiple religious faiths protested outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building Friday. The action marked the ninth straight day of action outside the ICE building as part of a Month of Momentum.
“The people united will never be defeated.”
The protesters made a half-circle, spilling onto Sansome Street, surrounding speakers from interfaith communities.
Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Chapter, related past and present suffering of minority communities in the U.S. Billoo said:
“The Muslim community, South and Central Americans and so many others are suffering today but they follow a legacy of others who suffered so that America could grow, so that America could be prosperous, so that some Americans could do well.”
She continued with a call for action, particularly asking able-bodied and financially-sound people to act. She said:
“We have to put our bodies on the line. We have to stand up, and speak out, and sit down, and block traffic and continue to show up because though we start with thoughts and prayers as people of faith today, our faith calls us to action.”
Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California Rev. Ranwa Hammamy, a LGBTQQ Muslim, led the crowd in song:
“We won’t let hate divide us. We won’t let fear divide us. We are glorious and strong. We will not hide and cower. We won’t deny our power. We are rising up as one.”
Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, stressed the importance of protected each other. Kiswani said:
“As trying as these times are, they also illustrate that we will continue to fight for each other and defend one another. And today is a testament to that too… We know that people power, organized resistance connected to struggles of all oppressed people is how we change the course of history.”
“We must do all we can to work together to challenge racist policies and laws and the attacks on our communities.”
The crowd’s tone shifted dramatically as Jose Armando Escobar-Lopez was introduced by Carl Larson Santos, La Raza Community Resource Center Immigration Program Director. Escobar-Lopez, 21, is an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who was arrested by Daly City police after a traffic stop and handed over to ICE earlier this year, out of line with California’s sanctuary state law. He held hands with his wife Krisia Mendoza as they faced the crowd.
Escobar-Lopez, speaking in Spanish with Santos translating, said:
“I was deprived of my liberty for over three months. I work painting houses. I have goals and dreams like everyone; one of those is to learn English. Another of those is to buy a house and to have children with my wife. And have a job where I can earn enough to support myself and my family in El Salvador.”
Speaking about his arrest, he continued:
“I believe the police of Daly City were wrong to detain me without any good reason. They detained me even though they didn’t give me any traffic infraction and they didn’t even provide me an interpreter so that I may understand them. When they arrested me, I felt terrible and like my world was crashing down. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to complete my goals and achieve my dreams and I felt really terrible.”
Escobar-Lopez said he was detained by ICE in Daly City police custody before he was taken to Yuba City for three days, where he said it was “demoralizing.” He said he was then transferred to Mesa Verde.
“It was difficult because I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know where they were taking me, I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know what was going to happen with my life from there on forward.”
Escobar-Lopez wants justice for himself and his family. He was unable to work for three months during his detention and Mendoza had to take on two jobs in order to support both their household and her husband’s expenses while he was incarcerated.
“It was really difficult because I was the only one who had to support him when he was inside of the jail so I had to send money to him and then I had to be calm. He always called me at 11 p.m. when I get out to my second job and it was really hard.”
Escobar-Lopez wishes that Daly City would align their policy with the state’s Senate Bill 54 and not cooperate with ICE to detaining undocumented people. He said:
“[B]ecause the police are here to protect the community and not to plant the seeds of fear.”
Escobar-Lopez believes true justice would be served if he received a U visa certification, which is granted to immigrants who are victims of qualifying crimes in the United States.
“It can result in winning lawful permanent residence in the United States.”
Santos claims Escobar-Lopez’s civil rights were violated by the Daly City Police Department and says that the city should certify that he is a crime victim, allowing him to apply for the U visa.
Jessica Yamane, an attorney from La Raza Community Resource Center representing Escobar-Lopez, said that Daly City police sent a letter to ICE requesting his release.
Yamane believes her client was a victim of false imprisonment, which is a qualifying crime according the the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“We’re demanding that in order to fully do more than just [speak] words here, they should sign a U visa certification to help restore Armando, as he said, ‘to wholeness.’”