OAKLAND — Ongoing enforcement tactics by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel caused panic to erupt at several East Bay school districts Tuesday, although ICE officials said that many of the rumors that swirled among parents and school staff were false or overblown.
“This whole experience is so terrifying that it really brought out the greatest fear in everybody,” said Mark Coplan, a spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District, where the schools superintendent issued a recorded phone message to parents Tuesday promising that he “will not allow any child to be taken away from the school.”
Some of the rumors — for example, that Berkeley middle school students were being carted off in vans — turned out to be false. But others — for example, that ICE agents were conducting surveillance near an East Oakland elementary school — were true and prompted Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and others to rally outside the school in protest.
“We were not at a school,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. “We were at residences. There may be a situation where a residence is near to a school.”
Local elected officials are seriously peeved.
“I find today’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement presence at our schools reprehensible. The Bush Administration espouses the virtues of No Child Left Behind and yet they provide no funding. If the President wants to help our nation’s children he should send funding — not federal agents to our schools,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland. “It is clear that ICE raids jeopardize the stability of our communities and families. There should be an immediate freeze on ICE raids directed at school children while legislation aiming to fix immigration is considered.”
And Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said she’s “deeply troubled and concerned about the tactics employed by ICE. Conducting an operation of this nature in Oakland is a direct violation of the spirit of the city’s sanctuary resolution.”
“Although ICE officials assured my district office that they did not physically enter public school property, the presence of the ICE van near or parked in front of the Esperanza Academy and Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy is of grave concern to me,” Lee said. “In an effort to address the controversial tactics that have been used by ICE, my district office has been in contact with them to convey my concerns. I will be working with my colleagues to oppose the use of this troubling approach, and I am personally committed to reviewing any ICE policies that may create a culture of fear and intimidation, especially near a school or place of worship.
“To conduct such an operation near or around a public school campus is a violation of the sanctity of the education process, and is intentionally meant to intimidate those who live in the community,” Lee continued. “I do not support these intimidation policies and I am planning a district outreach event in the future to hear directly from my constituents about their experiences with agency officials.”