Canal Families Recount Raids at Unusual Press Conference

By Jennifer Upshaw, Marin Independent Journal
March 21, 2007


Families affected by a series of federal immigration raids this month spoke out in San Rafael on Tuesday at a news conference that showcased them as silhouetted subjects shrouded behind a privacy screen.

Hosted by Canal Alliance at a building adjacent to its headquarters on Larkspur Street, the bizarre question-and-answer session - featuring men, women and children assigned pseudonyms - was aimed at telling their stories while hiding their identities to protect them from possible deportation, organizers said.

"This is the best we can do for now," said Tom Wilson, Canal Alliance executive director. "What's most important to us is to maintain the safety and security of our families and still get their stories out.

"We find ourselves in this unusual situation because of what our government has done and what our government is doing."

Agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, or ICE, arrested 65 people and deported 23 in raids conducted two weeks ago in San Rafael and Novato, organizers said. Of those, just five were named in warrants, according to Canal Alliance.

The effort is a national crackdown called Operation Return to Sender, which aims to send undocumented immigrants home.

"Our ICE officers are sworn to enforce immigration laws - they're doing their jobs," spokeswoman Lori Haley said last week.

Technical problems plagued the presentation as organizers struggled with audio issues and confusion over who was speaking when.

"In case anyone is wondering, this is our very first press conference - it may be our last too," Wilson said with a chuckle.

Among the speakers was "Juana," a woman organizers said was under house arrest, who spoke through her sister via telephone. She said her husband remained in detention in Yuba City.

"They arrested me and my husband. We told them we would like to speak to an attorney by telephone," she said. "When we arrived in San Francisco, we asked more than once ... to call the consulate of our country. What they said is they didn't have the number at the time."

A 14-year-old boy said he was punched in the jaw after he got into an argument with a law enforcement officer assisting in the raids.

"They've got no right to be cussing at us and hitting us," he said.

A 16-year-old talked about why his family immigrated to San Rafael.

"My parents came from Guatemala looking for a better life," he said. "Back in Guatemala, there's no jobs. It's hard to make a living. (Here) we have decent food, clothing and shelter."

Some were skeptical of the display, saying distrust is bred when speakers insist on anonymity.

"It is a clever attempt to try to get the media interested," said Novato resident Rick Oltman, spokesman for Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization. "In terms of showmanship, I have to give them high marks.

"If they won't identify who they are we are automatically suspicious of this group of people."

Contact Jennifer Upshaw via e-mail at jupshaw@marinij.com

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