A couple hundred protesters from throughout the Bay Area braved the heavy Presidents’ Day rains Feb. 20 and converged on the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Morgan Hill.
Holding signs with slogans denouncing President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and enforcement, rain-soaked protesters chanted: “ICE, out of Morgan Hill!”
Bob Sigala, of Gilroy, recalled being detained by ICE when he was an 11-year-old field worker. He also witnessed immigration sweeps in the mid-60s in Gilroy, where “people were being pulled from their families.”
“We’re going back,” Sigala said. “We’re a state of immigrants.”
The peaceful demonstration, held in front of the ICE office located on Vineyard Court, just down the street from the Morgan Hill Police station, was organized by several organizations, including Community Agency for Resources and Advocacy Services (CARAS); Services, Immigration Rights and Education Network (SIREN); People Acting in Community Together (PACT); Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers; and Service Employees International Union Service Workers West.
“Today, our purpose was to organize and make the community feel safe and secure here,” said Raymundo Armendariz, lead organizer with CARAS. “I think residents who are undocumented feel really unsafe after the Trump election and after the real inflammatory rhetoric that went around about undocumented immigrants and some of the policies he’s considering.”
A diverse group of protesters spent several hours in the rain as organizers used a megaphone to get their message across to everyone in attendance and show their appreciation for them coming out in such large numbers despite the weather.
“I’m just really concerned about Trump’s immigration policies that are illegal and inhumane and go against the fundamentals of democracy,” said Kate Giles, who came all the way from Sunnyvale to take part in the demonstration.
Giles was accompanied by San Jose resident Kathy Jasper, who is an English as a Second Language professor at Evergreen Valley College.
“I’m here to support my students because I don’t want to see them disrupted,” said Jasper, whose classes have many Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) students. “My students are very nervous.”
Locally, MHFT President Gemma Abels was out in the rain to show her support for the undocumented immigration population whose children attend Morgan Hill Unified School District schools.
“Teachers in schools, we teach our students to get along and that we are one community,” Abels said. “And anything that tries to break up our community, we will oppose it.”
Trump's views and policies on immigration have increasingly been under fire by large swaths of voters, organizations and the courts since he started campaigning for the office of President. Shortly after entering office in January, he signed executive orders mandating construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and severely limiting travel for foreign-born residents from a list of seven predominantly Muslim countries. The latter of these has been delayed by the courts.
Holding up a sign that read “Stop Separating Families,” Tim Brown of Mountain View said, “I’m here to stand up for human rights...We have to bear witness and not remain silent.”
Organizers spread the word via social media and outreach campaigning. They also went to college campuses, including Gavilan Community College, as well as local churches such as St. Mary’s in Gilroy and St. Catherine in Morgan Hill.
“We were really surprised with the turnout because we thought the rain would discourage people from coming out. We also are really surprised with the diversity,” Armendariz said. “One point we really want to make is even if you are not undocumented you can still come out and show your support. There were a lot of people here who were not Latino, who were not undocumented.”
ICE moved its regional office from San Jose to Morgan Hill in September 2016 when the agency's lease ran out at its former location. The local office is an Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) sub-office.
The federal agency submitted a request for a permit from the city building department a few weeks ago to add an unspecified number of “holding rooms” at the Vineyard Court location. However, that permit request was denied because the addition would violate the city’s zoning ordinance which prohibits detention facilities in Morgan Hill, according to City Manager Steve Rymer.
San Jose resident Timothy Willette was among the protesters Feb. 20, showing his support for the undocumented immigrant community.
“As members of this community, we must show solidarity even if we are not the ones directly impacted by (the immigration enforcement policy),” Willette said. “I’m here to show support for the community and show that it is a diverse voice.”
More protests are being organized for the coming weeks at the ICE office, according to Armendariz.
The group also plans to attend a March 4 town hall meeting hosted by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren in an effort to stop the Morgan Hill ICE office from continuing to operate in Morgan Hill, according to Armendariz. It will be held at the City Hall’s council chambers.
“We want to find if there is any way we can stop the opening of the offices here on a federal level,” he said. “So hopefully Zoe Lofgren will have some good ideas for us.”