Immigration Raids Shake California Schools

Raids by federal authorities on undocumented immigrants in Northern California panic parents and school officials as fears spread that students might be targeted. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and other big-city mayors are denouncing the raids.

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MICHELLE NORRIS, host:

And we turn to California now, where recent raids have resulted in the arrests of hundreds of people believed to be working in the U.S. illegally. But the raids have also prompted a backlash in some California cities. Several mayors accused immigration authorities of acting too aggressively. And last week, there was a panic in Oakland after immigration agents were spotted near an elementary school.

NPR's Richard Gonzales has the story.

RICHARD GONZALES: The power of a rumor is evident in the anxious faces of about a hundred worried parents gathered in the cafeteria of an elementary school in East Oakland.

Mr. CHARLES WILSON (Principal, Korematsu Discovery Academy): Good morning, everybody. I'm Charles Wilson the principal of Korematsu Discovery Academy. We're going to begin, and the attorneys will be coming soon.

GONZALES: The meeting is prompted by reports that agents savvies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been conducting surveillance near the school. In fact, last week, ICE agent arrested one woman at a neighborhood business and also a family of four in nearby Berkeley. That was enough to set off a panic that ICE was targeting schools.

And so the first thing Principal Charles Wilson tells the parents is that their children are safe on this campus.

Mr. WILSON: I want to emphasize that while the reports of the immigration agents in the neighborhood may be true, and many people have reported having seen them, the immigration agents did not come to the school. They never came to this school.

GONZALES: A spokeswoman for ICE, Virginia Kice, says federal immigration agents had no intention of targeting schools or students.

Ms. VIRGINIA KICE (Spokeswoman, Immigration and Customs Enforcement): They were specifically looking for individuals for whom they had administrative warrants. These are people who had ignored outstanding court orders of deportation and were subject to arrest. They did not conduct any enforcement actions on or near a school campus.

GONZALES: Nonetheless, a local community group called this meeting to advice these parents of their legal rights, should they be approached or detain by immigration agents. That sets off a flurry of questions. One parent, Jernaro Jeronamo(ph), says the whole affair frightens him. He says he has a sister in Michigan who was deported and separated from her children.

Mr. JERNARO JERONAMO: (Spanish spoken)

GONZALES: He says I was going to come to school to pick up my son, but I heard that I should stay away because immigration was rounding up parents. I pick up my son everyday at three. I called my wife, and she started crying. I thought I was going to lose my child. It's made me sad a week. But after the meeting, Jeronamo and other parents said that they felt reassured, because force school district police officers were assigned a nearby patrols. The cops had no power to stop federal agents if they entered the campus, so the move was largely symbolic. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums also lend his support to the parents by denouncing the ICE raids.

Mayor RON DELLUMS (Oakland, California): You have children in this school who are already fearful, and that's inappropriate. I mean, that scars our children.

GONZALES: Dellums is not the only California mayor weighing in on immigration these days. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is promoting his city as a sanctuary, where services will be available to all residents including the undocumented. And in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently called on the Department of Homeland Security to stop workplace raids on what he called non-exploitative employers, which happened to include manufacturing companies in his city. Here's what he told CNN.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles, California): We have to enforce our laws, but we have to enforce them in a humane way, in a way that reflects our constitution, and in a way that prioritizes our resources.

GONZALES: Back in East Oakland, a tentative calm has returned to the neighborhood, but ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice says the whole incident could have been avoided.

Ms. KICE: I just wish that some of the people in positions of authority had made of few phone calls to confirm whether or not these reports were factual before they moved ahead and caused widespread panic.

GONZALES: Kice says her agency is open to talking to community leaders about its operations, but the bottom line, she says, the job of ICE is law enforcement.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.

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