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Berkeley High School Students vs. Fascist ICE Raids
At lunchtime on May 22, more than 2,000 Berkeley High School students of all different nationalities streamed out of class and formed a human chain around the school to protest the escalating attacks on immigrants. As they linked arms, they chanted “Immigrants are people!” A young woman with the group Fighting for Immigrants’ Rights and Equality (FIRE), which organized the protest, said, “Most of the school went out with us… Ooooh it made the whole school feel good, like we were a family, no matter what race you are or nothing, like we were together.”
In the first three weeks of May, ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security) made 900 arrests in California. The day after May 1st, when thousands of immigrants marched in the streets, ICE agents raided 11 branches of a chain of Bay Area taqueria restaurants, arresting 63 people. The day after Cinco de Mayo, ICE vans drove though the streets of Berkeley and East Oakland, including in the neighborhood around Berkeley High. A family of four was arrested in their home near the high school. As word spread, worried parents rushed to the school to pick up their kids.
In Oakland, which has declared itself a “sanctuary” city for immigrants, Mayor Ron Dellums went to Esperanza Elementary School after reports of ICE vans prowling around and declared, “We don’t want this type of intimidation. Immigrants are human beings, and need to be dealt with respect.” Dellums said police officers would be posted at the school the next day to prevent ICE from coming onto school grounds.
Students at Berkeley High and Oakland High protested in the following days. But they felt they needed to do something bigger. A Berkeley High student said about the family that was arrested near the school, “We knew them, and so it really affected us… We thought ‘we have to do something,’ like we weren’t just going to sit down and like it’s OK.” Many students, especially Latinos, described the fear that their family or friends would be rounded up when they heard that the ICE was prowling around.
A white student said, “The fact that they [ICE] came around the school opened all of our eyes. Some people sort of knew something like this was happening, but how could they believe it? But when they came here it shows that they’re not just going after certain people… It’s real. It’s right in front of us.”
Teachers and school administrators in Berkeley had taken a good stand in the face of the ICE threats. Teachers gave rides home to some students, and the Berkeley school superintendent sent out a phone message to all parents assuring them that the district “would not allow any child to be taken away from the school.” A Berkeley High teacher told Revolution, “The teachers were here to help. The superintendent sent out a message immediately. That’s not to be taken for granted because it doesn’t happen everywhere, but it happened here.”
The May 22 protest was something the students themselves decided to do, and they were supported by many teachers and staff, including the principal. Some teachers were at first a little reluctant, especially since this was at the end of the semester, but student organizers won them over.
One student told Revolution, “ICE’s whole function is like slave catchers. These [immigrants], they’re running from extreme poverty. They’d probably starve if they didn’t come to America… The government, they might act like they want to get all the ‘illegal’ immigrants out but they don’t because they want to keep exploiting the immigrants. They’re just trying to get them scared so they’ll be willing to work for no money as they are forced to do now. They are constantly being hunted. They’re basically turning them into slaves. They are taking all of their rights away. That’s all rooted in capitalism. In a non-capitalistic society we wouldn’t need to have this kind of stuff.”
Berkeley students have taken a righteous stand saying that they refuse to learn to live with the new “normality” in this country where whole communities are being terrorized by armed immigration police, and tens of thousands are being deported each month. One student said, “The fact that these people come out and target an entire group of people is new to us. It’s something that we’re not used to seeing… It’s our fear and our anger that brought us together. Some people took the time to educate themselves. We don’t have to fear it, but we need to say no to it.”
Photos by spiephoto