[ Photo: A Homeland Security / Immigration & Customs Enforcement MRAP [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected] Special Response Team vehicle rolls past the famous Giant Dipper roller coaster at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk while terrifying the predominantly Latino community living in the Beach Flats neighborhood. ]
On Monday, February 13 at approximately 4:45 AM in the Beach Flats neighborhood, armored vehicles and soldiers with machine guns were escorted by Santa Cruz police. They broke down doors, detained women and children, and checked people's immigration papers. Members of the Salvadoran community were targeted for prosecution and deportation under the guise of searching for "gang members."
The Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids involved helicopters, flash grenades, and fully armed officers in several neighborhoods in Santa Cruz who detained at least eleven individuals. The same thing happened elsewhere on California's central coast, including in Live Oak, Soquel, Watsonville, Hollister, Salinas, and Daly City.
SCPD's new Deputy Chief Dan Flippo said the city of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Police Department would not participate in an immigration raid and the timing of Monday's raids were "unfortunate" but in no way connected to an immigration sweep. "This investigation was ramped up very recently based on the belief that there was a significant threat to public safety," Flippo said in a release.
But, in light of Trump's recent threats to deport citizens without documents, the people of Beach Flats are terrified. "This morning's raids threw the immigrant community into a panic. Trump's new mandate to prioritize deportation of a far broader swathe of the immigrant community means many, many more people — parents, families, ordinary working people — must be fearful. Many are now in hiding," said Paul Johnston of the new community organization Sanctuary Santa Cruz.
Police enthusiasts, including corporate media, diligently repeat police statements indicating that the raids occurred as part of a five year investigation and had nothing to do with illegal immigration. So far most of the media covering this incident has focused on an alleged MS-13 gang affiliation of the people detained.
However, there have been accounts of people being seized who have no affiliation to this gang, as well as tearful testimonies of law enforcement breaking down doors without warrants, smashing windows, and in some cases, taking money and computers and vandalizing homes.
The police chief's statement that "this was not an immigration enforcement operation" dangerously invisibilizes how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may have targeted undocumented individuals under the auspices of solely targeting "criminals". This brings to question the cooperation between local police and ICE as well as the guises and tactics ICE might use to enact their agenda.
Highly Militarized ICE Raids in Watsonville, California
The Watsonville Police Department assisted Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to conduct terrifying raids in Watsonville on February 13. ICE used flash grenades, armored vehicles, and military tactics to enter homes. ICE was also roaming the streets and scaring people. Communities are being terrorized. People, and especially children, are scared.
Watsonville just adopted the sanctuary resolution, so what does this mean? How are we a sanctuary city if they are employing tactics that terrorize the immigrant population?
Central Coast Communities Respond to the Terror of ICE Raids
Ernestina Saldana, an activist with Sanctuary Santa Cruz, addressed over 700 people at a standing room only community meeting in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on Monday, February 13. She cried as she spoke about the ICE raids that happened at 4 AM that morning. It was a coordinated raid by highly militarized ICE officers in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Live Oak, Soquel, Hollister, and Salinas.
Supposed "gang members" were being deported, but many other people were picked up in the raid, including mothers who had been deported and come back across the border to be with their American born children, considered federal criminals. As she cried, Ernestina told the audience that she'd received 350 emails and 38 calls by 5 in the morning. Doors were broken open. "We have proof of that" she stated. "We are afraid. I am afraid. These kinds of actions make fear grow like a weed everywhere."
Later in the day on February 13, there was a training in Watsonville for parents about what to do if they get separated from their children, but only a few people attended, since many people were too afraid to attend. Children didn't go to school. People are terrified and locking themselves in their homes.
While the city passed a resolution to be a Sanctuary City, this has not yet become a legal ordinance, which is a much stronger commitment. The City Council previously postponed this agenda item to February 28, rather than addressing it on February 14. Given the events of February 13, this is clearly not soon enough.
On Tuesday, February 14, Santa Cruz City Hall was packed with people demanding that local governing officials pass legislation confirming Santa Cruz's status as a Sanctuary City and preventing the Santa Cruz police from cooperating with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as well as all of DHS.
ICE Arrests 600 in Nationwide Raids After Trump Order Expands Criminalization of Immigrants
Immigrant communities across the country are on edge after federal immigration agents arrested over 600 people in the past week in the largest raids since Donald Trump became president. Raids were reported in at least 11 states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.
On Sunday, February 12, Trump tweeted, "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"
Immigrant rights activists say the actions signal a clear shift by the Trump administration to deport people who were considered a "low priority" for removal under the Obama administration.
Two cops with the Santa Cruz police department shake hands with a federal Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent.