Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned her city last month of plans for widespread immigration raids throughout the region. Her sources were correct. In addition to raids in the East Bay, several San Jose residents were taken by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the days following her alert. Schaaf made national news, and the head of ICE is making legally dubious noise about obstruction charges. But Schaaf stands by the legality of her actions and says she’d do it again.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has since admitted that he, too, had information about the raids. And he didn’t just sit on it. He tweeted that same day that the “rumors” of raids were “unsubstantiated.” He was in Washington, D.C. at the time when the ICE arrests took place throughout our state and city.
To our immigrant communities — we’ve got your back. My statement on rumored ICE raids in the Bay Area: pic.twitter.com/uHyWVQdNUY
— Sam Liccardo (@sliccardo) February 25, 2018
Panic spread through the community at sudden news of a large ICE presence on Story and King roads last week, a raid that targeted undocumented San Jose residents in the public spaces of East Side. But Liccardo had tweeted that undocumented people should send kids to school and report crimes to police—a tone deaf failure to recognize that our city’s immigrants aren’t any safer when the call 9-1-1 if they can’t even buy diapers and groceries without fear of being taken from their families.
A week after the 2016 presidential election, Liccardo promised San Jose immigrants, “We’ve got your back.” He has since repeated this slogan many times, and recently joined San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia to assure the public that local law enforcement won’t cooperate with ICE.
But simply refusing to cooperate with ICE detentions and deportations is not enough. If my neighbor’s house is on fire, standing back and saying, “I’m not going to pour any gasoline on that, you’re welcome!” is not “having their back.” It’s not enough. It will not keep their house from burning down.
Withholding important information about possible raids puts vulnerable people in danger. A father was seized by ICE this past week while buckling his toddler into his carseat, leaving the terrorized child to wait for a family member to feel safe enough to open the door and retrieve him. Didn’t that family deserve the best information Liccardo could offer them? Didn’t that family deserve a warning?
Currently, the only real-time support for immigrants and loved ones during raids comes from individual citizens. The Rapid Response Network—408.290.1144—sends volunteers to homes, shopping centers and even local courts to observe ICE, debunk false raid rumors and walk door-to-door to get neighbors informed about their rights.
This direct community action is important, but individual citizens don’t have the connections and information that a mayor has.
Liccardo missed an opportunity to show how words like “sanctuary city” translate to action, not just how nice they sound. He’s come under fire before for declaring his support for immigrants in speeches and photo ops while, in practice, excluding them from this “sanctuary.”
As Liz Gonzalez, a housing and justice organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, aptly described the disconnect: “While Sam Liccardo has placed himself front and center in defending dreamers and proclaiming San Jose as a city that protects immigrants, in practice he is pushing out the very people he claims to protect in his public discourse. His votes on tenant protections and his decision to bring in Google under less than transparent circumstances demonstrate his inability to connect the dots and admit he is complicit in separating families.”
I invite Mr. Liccardo to do better, and I believe he can. Immigrant leaders throughout our community know what they need from their city, their neighbors and their mayor. It’s time for less secrecy and more solidarity.
Vera Sloan is a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, a trained Rapid Responder and a resident of San Jose. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.