Things That Matter

Oakland’s Mayor Heard Of Potential ICE Raids So She Alerted Her Residents And Saved Hundreds From Being Deported

Oakland, California —like most cities in the Golden State — considers themselves a Sanctuary City, a place where undocumented immigrants can feel somewhat protected from persecution. However, as we’ve come to learn this year — no undocumented immigrant is safe from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Despite repeated threats from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE director Thomas D. Homan against sanctuary cities and city officials, one mayor did not back down and warned their residents.

On Feb. 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf released a direct message to people in her community: ICE is coming. That warning saved hundreds. While several reports indicated that ICE was planning a raid in the Bay Area, the warning from Schaaf was more personal.

“I am sharing this information publicly not to panic our residents but to protect them,” Schaaf said her news release. “My priority is for the well-being and safety of all residents, particularly our most vulnerable.”

She told the San Francisco Chronicle that it’s her duty to protect the people in Oakland.

“When an official has information that could help people, it’s their duty to share it,” Schaaf told The SF Chronicle. “Having information before an ICE action can make a tremendous difference.”

What a difference it truly made. The ICE raid occurred just days later on Feb. 27, but people were prepared. ICE reported that they detained 150 people, but their target was much higher. They wanted more than 864 undocumented people.

“The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” Homan said in a press release statement. “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days. However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”

In a response to Homan’s comments, Schaaf said she had zero regrets about releasing the initial warning to Bay Area residents.

“I do not regret sharing this information,” Schaaf said in a tweet. “It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together.”

READ: Bay Area Prepares For Possible Massive Raids of Undocumented Immigrants

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With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

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With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

Damen Wood / Getty Images

Becoming a U.S. resident or citizen has never been an easy process. The country’s immigration system is a convoluted mess that sharply leans in favor of high-wealth individuals and under the Trump administration that is becoming more apparent than ever.

But 2020 has been an especially challenging year for immigrants seeking to complete their citizenship process.

Although it’s common for interest in naturalization to spike in the months leading up to presidential elections, the Coronavirus pandemic forced the citizenship process to a grinding halt in March. The outbreak shut offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all across the country. And although many of these offices reopened in July, there is a widening backlog of applications.

Meanwhile, on October 2, looming fee increases could leave applications and citizenship out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants, as the process becomes significantly more costly.

Many migrant advocacy groups are hosting events meant to help immigrants complete their applications before prices are set to rise.

In South Florida, the Office of New Americans (ONA) — a public-private partnership between Miami-Dade County and non-profit legal service providers — launched its second Miami Citizenship Week on Sept. 11. This 10-day event is designed to help immigrants with free legal support so participants can beat the October 2 deadline.

In addition, the event will host a mix of celebrations meant to highlight the social and economic contributions of South Florida’s large immigrant communities.

“I think in Miami we talk about how we are diverse and how we are adjacent to Latin America, but we never take a moment to celebrate immigrants and the amazing work that they do whether it’s the nurses in our hospitals, the drivers that drive our buses, small business owners,” said Krystina François, ONA’s executive director. “We need to reclaim the narrative around immigrants and around our communities because it’s what makes us great.”

However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, the events will all be hosted online.

Much like any other event, Covid-19 has greatly impacted this year’s “Citizenship Week.” Therefore, the event will be hosted virtually. That includes the Mega Citizenship Clinic, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16-20. At the event, pro-bono lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Americans for Immigrant Justice and other groups will connect with attendees one-on-one on Zoom and walk them through the process of filling out the 20-page citizenship application form. 

The clinic is open to immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens, meaning permanent residents who have had a green card for at least five years.

Cities like Dallas are also getting in on similar events, meant to welcome new residents and citizens into the city.

Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs is hosting a series of virtual events from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20 in honor of Welcoming Week. The virtual events aim to promote Dallas’ diverse communities and to unite all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

According to the City of Dallas, this year’s theme is Creating Home Together, and it emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community to build a more inclusive city for everyone.

Participants will be able to learn about the voting process and what will be on the next ballot during the “Vontando Por Mi Familia: Enterate para que vas a votar” event. The event, hosted in partnership with Mi Familia, will be presented in Spanish.

A Council Member, Jaime Resendez, will host a virtual program on Tuesday at 11 a.m. that celebrates Latinx art and culture. The event will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Mayor Eric Johnson will read the Welcoming Week Proclamation, and the event will feature art exhibitions and performances showcasing the talents of performers and artists across Dallas.

Attendees will also have a chance to learn more about the availability of DACA and a citizenship workshop will take place where articipants will learn how to complete their N-400 application for citizenship. Volunteer immigration attorneys and accredited representatives from the Department of Justice will be there for assistance.

The events come as fees for several immigration proceedings are set to rise by dramatic amounts come October 1.

Starting on October 2, the financial barrier will grow even taller for many immigrants as fees are set to increase. The fee to apply for U.S. citizenship will increase from $640 to $1,160 if filed online, or $ 1,170 in paper filing, a more than 80% increase in cost. 

“In the middle of an economic downturn, an increase of $520 is a really big amount,” François told the Miami-Herald.

Aside from the fee increase, many non-citizen immigrants never truly felt the need to become citizens. That was until the Coronavirus pandemic hit and had many questioning their status in the country.

“There are people who up until this COVID crisis, their status as a permanent resident didn’t impact their day-to-day life … but then the pandemic has given them another reason of why it’s important to take that extra step and become a citizen, because of the additional rights and protections that are afforded to you, but also to just have a sense of security and stability in a crisis.”

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Even Though We’re In The Midst Of A Pandemic, ICE Just Conducted The Largest Immigration Sweep In Months

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Even Though We’re In The Midst Of A Pandemic, ICE Just Conducted The Largest Immigration Sweep In Months

Gregory Bull / Getty Images

Although communities across the country – particularly the Latinx community – continue to be ravaged by Coronavirus, U.S. immigration officials are still enforcing inhumane immigration policies.

In cities across the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials made thousands of arrests over recent weeks. These arrests are part of the largest immigration sweep since the pandemic began and mean that more people will be put in danger as they’re forced into detention centers which have become a hotbed of Coronavirus infections.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took thousands of people into custody in 24 cities across the country.

A six-week ICE operation resulted in more than 2,000 arrests of undocumented immigrants, in 24 cities across the U.S. The operation, which ran from July to August, led to arrests in communities across the country, CBS News reports.

Officials charge that the enforcement efforts were focused on those with criminal convictions and charges, but they admit that there were also arrests of some undocumented immigrants with clean records.

As part of the operation, ICE agents made “at-large” arrests, which could take place at residences, worksites and traffic stops, across the country, including in large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, where the ICE field office apprehended the most immigrants. ICE said the operation targeted undocumented immigrants and others subject to deportation who had been charged or convicted of a crime involving a victim.

Asked by CBS News how the recent arrests of immigrants without convictions or charges conformed with that announcement, Henry Lucero, ICE’s executive associate director, offered a clarification of the so-called “enforcement posture.”

“We never said we were going to stop arresting individuals,” Lucero said in a call with reporters. “We said we were going to prioritize and focus on those that are public safety threats. And that’s exactly what we did during this operation.”

He added, “We never stated we’re … going to stop arresting any type of immigration violator. We continue to arrest immigration violators. We use discretion when appropriate. That will remain in effect until further notice.”

Although ICE says it’s limited its enforcement activities because of the pandemic, this is the largest sweep in months.

Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

It took awhile for ICE to finally adjust its enforcement posture once the pandemic hit, but ICE did finally announce certain changes. The agency said it’s limited its operations to avoid outbreaks among detainees – and the hard numbers to paint this picture. So far this fiscal year, ICE has made 94,5000 arrests inside communities, compared to 143,000 at this time last year.

In March, ICE announced that it would focus its enforcement efforts on those with certain criminal records and those deemed a public threat.

ICE and its enforcement priorities under President Trump have become a focal point of the nation’s broader debate around immigration, with some Democratic lawmakers calling for the agency to be abolished. Advocates for immigrants have also criticized ICE’s response to the spread of the coronavirus inside its sprawling immigration detention system, which is the largest in the world. 

Meanwhile, many of these migrants will be forced into detention centers that are becoming hubs of Covid-19 infections.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

Already the 2020 fiscal year (which ends September 30) is tied with 2006 for the highest number of migrant deaths in ICE custody – the vast majority of whom have died of Covid-19 related complications. Just this week, a 50-year-old man from Honduras became the system’s latest victim and the 19th to die so far.

Meanwhile, more than 5,300 immigrants have tested for the Coronavirus while in custody. That number doesn’t take into account the risks fro communities and employees.

ICE says that they’re making adjustments, pointing out that the agency’s detainee population has plummeted during the pandemic, declining to roughly 21,000 this week. However, raids like the ones over the last few weeks will likely increase that population.

“There is still a pandemic raging,” Reichlin-Melnick told CBS News. “ICE should not be engaging in large-scale enforcement actions that send people to detention centers where the virus is rampant.”

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