Immigration activists crowded along the sidewalk outside the San Francisco U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office Dec. 14 to kick off what they said will be monthly vigils demanding an end to detentions and deportations.
Members with the group Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, which is made up of faith leaders, activists, and the families of people facing deportation, vowed to meet outside the 630 Sansome St. office on the second Friday of every month to sing, pray and to show support.
The group has been holding peaceful gatherings monthly outside the Richmond Detention Center for the past seven years, however, since the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office terminated its contract to house ICE detainees in September, the group has shifted its focus to the San Francisco location.
At the Dec. 14 gathering, several advocates supporting the Bay Area’s southeast Asian community came out on behalf of those within their community facing deportation, many of them refugees who came as children with their families fleeing the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
According to Nate Tan with the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, as part of an ongoing effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to deport Cambodian-American refugees, many with older criminal convictions, 46 of them were set to be flown back to Cambodia on Dec. 17.
“For many it’s a place they’ve never been to,” Tan said. “We as the Cambodian American community have experienced attack after attack, raid after raid and deportation after deportation and we’re asking ‘when will our families not suffer not anymore?’”
Somdeng Danny Thongsy, 39, faces deportation to Laos after having come to the U.S. as a child. Thongsy, who lives in Oakland, said he served 20 years in prison after being convicted of a felony as a young adult.
Although he’s served his time in jail and obtained his education, he’s scheduled to be deported in the near future. He’s since asked for a pardon from Gov. Jerry Brown, but he hasn’t heard back.
“What deportation does is inhumane and unjust. It tears families apart and perpetuates the vicious cycle of trauma,” he said. Talking directly to Brown, he said, “I’m just asking you with your kindness and compassion for one last act: please pardon these refugees.”
Also at the Dec. 14 event, Russian immigrant Alexey Kharis showed up to support those facing detention and deportation. Kharis, 43, was released from ICE custody just two weeks ago after having spent 15 months in detention.
Kharis, who lives in Palo Alto, said, “Now that I’m with my family it’s better but I can’t be happy knowing that there’s still people there; the many friends I left there. This practice must be stopped.”
Kharis said because he was jailed for so long, he’s currently unemployed and in the process of getting his work permit.
“Knowing the hardships your family goes through makes it even harder,” he said.
“Our goal to educate the community, and our goal to educate the families, is (to show) how widespread the impact is of these devastating deportations,” said Rev. Deb Lee, executive director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.
According to Lee, the organization works with families from different cultures and countries from all over the world, many who face similar, but also different and unique setbacks.
“From the Muslim Ban to the asylum ban to the detentions and deportations; we can’t just fix one piece,” she said. “It’s not going to solve the problem. That’s why we have to look at the root causes.”
In addition to holding its monthly vigil in San Francisco, Lee said the organization is planning to go in March to Honduras to investigate those root causes and meet with communities being forced off their land by mining companies.
Speaking of the mass migration from Central America that has ramped up in the last few years, she said, “This is one of many caravans.
We’re going to have decades of caravans if we don’t also look at the root causes and look at policies that are forcing people to flee.”