By Marielena Castellanos
Hundreds gathered in Chicano Park this week for a rally and march through downtown San Diego to call for an end to family separations, the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and to cancel the implementation of Operation Streamline.
The federal program being expanded along California’s border, Operation Streamline, which creates fast tracked mass prosecutions of people caught crossing the United States-Mexico border without documentation, is expected to begin this month in California.
Protesters included San Diego residents and hundreds of others who traveled from all across California and around the country.
The march and rally were organized by Mijente and a number of interfaith and civil rights organizations. Mijente is a national Latinx organization mobilizing against immigration enforcement and criminalization of migrants.
The rally began early in Chicano Park with a number of speakers voicing opposition to a number of immigration policies.
Itzel Guillen, an immigrant integration, manager at Alliance San Diego and a DACA recipient, told the crowd that for the last 20 years she has lived in fear she would be separated from her family.
“I stand here today in solidarity to reject this administration’s cruel and inhumane policies keeping children and families in cages. The fact that these children and families fleeing violence are being treated as criminals and facing the family separation that I fear so much is yet another reminder of why we need to continue to push for humane policy solutions,” Guillen said.
Regis Bunch, a member of Black Lives Matter, came from Los Angeles with a group of 20 protesters. Bunch said the separation of families is also a black issue.
“The reason why we exist is because of prisons, detention centers and jails that have eviscerated the black community, black immigrants. We are here to be in concert with Mijente and abolishing ICE, abolishing all institutions that continue to separate families,” Bunch said.
The call to end ICE was also prominent throughout the rally and march.
Reverend Beth Johnson, a minister at Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in North County, explained the Unitarian Universalist delegates at their general assembly two weeks ago voted to support abolishing ICE.
“We know that ICE’s actions are inhumane, almost incomprehensible. It’s not a necessary agency. It’s been around since 2003, it’s a reactionary agency, it goes unchecked. Our first principle is that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and so it just about how we live our faith and that we cannot allow our immigrant siblings to be treated in this way,” Johnson said.
The American Friends Service Committee, an international organization with a San Diego office, also set up an online petition urging Congress to abolish ICE.
Just days ago, President Trump defended the performance of the agency in a pair of tweets, after a few Democrats proposed eliminating ICE.
“To the great and brave men and women of ICE, do not worry or lose your spirit,” Trump wrote in one tweet. “You are doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe by eradicating the worst criminal elements.”
At Chicano Park, children led the march to downtown San Diego. The sounds of a trombone, tambourine, several guitars were also heard as demonstrators held signs and chanted.
In downtown just steps away from the federal building that houses ICE offices, activists with rock-climbing gear climbed down the Westin Hotel with ropes as several others looked down over them from the top of the building.
On the street, suspense built as protesters watched the climbers unfurl a large banner which read “Free Our Families Now” as another call to end to immigrant detentions and Operation Streamline. The protesters responsible for the banner were later arrested. Organizers said officials are asking for bail amounts of $25,000 each, and some are being charged with felonies.
Others locked arms and blocked the entrance to the ICE building, while another group blocked the entrance into the federal court building.
In May of this year, Chief Judge Barry Moskowitz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued an order to form a committee to resolve issues arising from the U.S. Attorney’s plans to substantially increase the prosecution of illegal entry cases, including at least 100 misdemeanor cases a week.
In the order, Judge Moskowitz also said the plans come at a time when the Court already has seen an approximate 45 percent increase in felony cases last year.
Operation Streamline was started in 2005 by the Department of Homeland Security in Del Rio, Texas with the goal of speeding up the prosecution of people crossing the border and to deter more people from crossing without the proper documentation.
The program later spread in other parts of the Texas and Arizona border, under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
In Tucson, at one point, about 70 people a day would be prosecuted at the same time and convicted within a matter of hours.
Proponents of the program have said it discourages people from crossing the border, but critics say group prosecutions undermine individual due process and defendants’ rights.
A 2016 report from Justice Strategies, a pro-immigrant policy research group critical of Operation Streamline, said the system is not seen as effective by most judges and lawyers, and leads to overcrowding in the federal prison system. It also estimates the total cost of these criminal prosecutions since 2005 to be at least at $7 billion.
Angelica Chazaro, a member of Mijente, explained some of the next steps.
“Our vision will continue to evolve in the months and years to come, but we remain grounded in a commitment to free our future from the Trump regime,” Chazaro said.