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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 12:04 pm | Fair 57º


Community Organizations Hold May Day Rally in Santa Maria to Protest New ICE Facility

Protesters say they fear the soon-to-open Immigration and Customs Enforcement office will separate families through deportations

Dalia Corona, 9, stands at the corner of Broadway and Main Street on Friday for a May Day rally in Santa Maria.
Dalia Corona, 9, stands at the corner of Broadway and Main Street on Friday for a May Day rally in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A new Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Santa Maria provokes fear to thousands of families in the Santa Maria Valley, speakers said Friday afternoon while standing yards from a new but not-yet-occupied facility.

“Today, we combat that fear with love and a message welcoming immigrants here in Santa Maria,” said Hazel Davelos from CAUSE, before calling on city leaders to show that immigrants are welcome and treated with respect and dignity.

A coalition of community groups including unions, religious organizations and others gathered near 740 W. Century St. to air their concerns that the facility will lead to separation of immigrant families through deportations. The group numbered approximately 20 people.

Friday evening, about 70 people gathered at the corner of Broadway and Main Street for a May Day rally, noting International Day of the Worker and the role of immigrants in the community.

Drivers in passing vehicles at the busy intersection honked in support of the group, whose members were holding signs saying “No ICE,” “The only ICE we want is in our raspadas” and “Immigrants are workers too.”

Department of Homeland Security officials have said the facility will replace aging buildings at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex. The relocated operations have occurred in northern Santa Barbara County since 1996.

Like the Lompoc operations to be replaced, the Santa Maria facility will have “secure space for interviewing and briefly holding individuals who are coming into ICE custody following their release from area jails or prisons,” Homeland Security officials said.

Councilwoman Terri Zuniga attended Friday afternoon’s event, and said immigrants make Santa Maria a vibrant and diverse community 

She pledged to do her best to hold federal officials to their assurances regarding the number of people who will be processed at the Santa Maria site, the scope of the operations and their hours of their operations

May Day
Armed with various signs, about 70 people participate in a May Day rally Friday evening in downtown Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The city’s review of the proposed ICE facility prompted thousands to attend the City Council and Planning Commission meetings in protest in 2014.

Local business owner Tony Coles said diversity fuels economy and noted that the work of many immigrants makes local firms successful.

“Part of diversity is our immigration population and they need to be welcomed in and incorporated into the economic development of our city …,” he said. “Some of the most successful businesses here employ that population. They’re feeding them in restaurants. They’re shopping in our stores. They’re a big part of the business here so it’s time that we embrace our diversity here in Santa Maria.”

May Day is important to labor unions because it represents the formation of the eight-hour workday, according to Juan Cervantes of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

“Farm workers were excluded from the 8-hour day and we’re still being excluded now,” Cervantes said, adding it’s a shame to spend government money on a new ICE facility to process immigrant workers “who have done nothing but look for a better life.”

The national union has made it a priority to protect immigrant workers, he said.

“They are needed for their hard labor,” he said. “They want a job but they want to be part of the community. They pay their property taxes. They pay their taxes for gasoline. They pay all taxes and this is unfair to this community.”

The Rev. Cannon Deborah Dunn from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church said she wants immigrant families to feel welcome.

“At St. Peter’s, when we say everyone is welcome we mean everyone,” Dunn said.

The afternoon event ended with a “unity clap” followed by chants of “Si se puedes” or “Yes, we can.”

“I’m just so disappointed this building exists,” said the Rev. John Dear from the Catholic Church's Monterey Diocese. “Today, we stand together on behalf of the immigrant community to call upon the federal government to do everything possible to make sure this new ICE facility does not detain, process, separate immigrant families who have not committed serious crimes — simply living and working here in Santa Maria.”

He called on local policymakers show immigrants they are “welcome and safe in Santa Maria.”

“Immigrants are a great blessing. In the Christian tradition, they are Christ in disguise,” Dear said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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