In emergency demonstration, hundreds protest northern Calif. ICE sweeps

March 2, 201812:32 PM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Hundreds of spirited demonstrators marched, chanted and blocked streets surrounding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters here Feb. 28, to protest ICE’s detention of more than 150 people in northern California, in raids that began on Sunday, Feb. 25.

The four-hours-long nonviolent protest was marked by pickets marching around the ICE building, nonviolent blockage of nearby streets, and human chains in which demonstrators locked arms through steel barrels.

Demonstrators spanned the area’s broad spectrum of racial and ethnic groups. They came from housing, community and labor as well as immigrant rights organizations. Young people made up a large part of the crowd.

Rally speakers told heartbreaking stories of parents torn away from their small children, and families cut off from loved ones suffering chronic health conditions. Many arrests reportedly took place under false pretenses, including ICE agents posing as local police officers, or under circumstances sure to traumatize families still further, as when a father was picked up while dropping his child off at school.

Francisco Juarez told how his son, Jesus Manuel, was arrested in November, taken to an unmarked vehicle and held in handcuffs for hours before ICE agents took him to a processing center.  Juarez said his son was never read his rights, even in the processing center. “Jesus has four children, and they are very, very affected by not having their father with them.”

Diana Flores, from San Francisco’s Dolores Street Community Services, told the crowd, “We today have to stand up very clearly in our hearts and minds that what is happening does not match our humanity … Let us not convince ourselves that some people deserve to be picked up. No one deserves to be separated from their families; no one deserves to be intimidated.”

A panel of attorneys volunteering their services to aid detainees reported they had met with ICE officials who told them detainees had not been brought to San Francisco because of the protest action, but instead were taken to Stockton, over 80 miles away, where authorities refused to tell them immigration lawyers were trying to reach them.

Rally speakers also expressed outrage at the U.S. Supreme Court’s Feb. 27 decision that people held in immigration detention, even for long periods of time, are not entitled to periodic bail hearings.

The ICE actions came in the wake of a warning by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who issued a press release Saturday evening saying she had been informed by “multiple credible sources” that ICE raids would start in the following 24 hours.

“As mayor of Oakland,” Schaaf said, “I am sharing this information publicly not to panic our residents but to protect them … and I know that Oakland is safer when we share information, encourage community awareness, and care for our neighbors.” She urged those who might be affected to seek information on their rights, from immigrant rights organizations like Centro Legal de la Raza.

ICE later slapped back at Schaaf, saying that while most U.S. cities cooperate with their actions, “others force ICE to assign additional resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the general public and the aliens at greater risk and increasing the incidence of collateral arrests.”

Calling the mayor’s warning “reckless,” Acting ICE director Thomas Homan said that as a result, ICE had been unable to locate over 800 undocumented criminals.

Like many cities and counties in California, Oakland is a sanctuary city. California itself is a sanctuary state, having last year passed a package of far-reaching laws to protect the rights of immigrants, including Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which bars state and local law enforcement from using their resources to investigate or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.

State law also bars landlords from using tenants’ immigration status to harass them, and states that employers must require proper court documents before letting immigration agents enter a workplace or obtain workers’ records.

A broad spectrum of immigrant and civil rights organizations issued statements this week condemning the raids and calling for upholding the rights of immigrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California said, “Contrary to statements provided by ICE, agents are aggressively intimidating families in their homes and using tactics of racial profiling to detain people in public spaces” and “terrorizing people of color.”

“In all its immigration enforcement activities,” the ACLU said, “ICE must abide by the U.S. Constitution which guarantees basic rights to everyone in the United States … Together we must resist this blatant racism. We need strong families, not families torn apart by deportation. We need communities that trust each other, not communities living in fear of police every second of the day.”

And the Power, Not Panic Emergency Response Committee, a coalition of over two dozen immigrant rights, civil rights, community and faith-based organizations said, “As community, civil rights, and legal organizations, we stand together to demand an immediate halt to politically motivated abuses of power.” They added, “We are deeply troubled by the federal government’s threats against local policies that protect families and defend civil rights. We decry the awful, xenophobic agenda at play, and the trauma raids induce in communities of color … We call for full protection of all people’s constitutional rights to due process.”

Via People’s World

California legislature sends “landmark” housing bills to governor for signature

September 29, 2017 11:28 AM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif.—Among hundreds of bills passed by the California legislature this year, and now awaiting action by Gov. Jerry Brown, is a package of bills to address the state’s long-standing and rapidly-worsening housing crisis, which affects low-income Californians most sharply. The governor has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto legislation.

Both houses of the legislature, and the governorship, are in the hands of Democrats.

Three bills heading the list would provide substantial funding for affordable housing, put an affordable housing bond issue on the 2018 ballot, and ease requirements for developers in cities not meeting state housing requirements.

  • Senate Bill 2, introduced by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would mandate a fee of $75-$225 on real estate transactions, and could bring in over $250 million a year for low-income affordable housing and fighting homelessness. Atkins said the bill “will deliver relief to many residents who are struggling under the weight of housing instability, bring people experiencing homelessness in off the streets, and spur production of homes for people of all income levels throughout the state.”
  • SB 3, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would put a $4 billion affordable housing bond issue on the November 2018 ballot. $1 billion would help military veterans buy homes with no or little down-payment, while $3 billion would go to affordable housing development. Beall said his measure will result in over 70,000 new affordable housing units and create nearly 137,000 jobs.
  • SB 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would let developers in cities not on track to meet state zoning requirements for housing at all income levels bypass local government review. The bill would require prevailing wages on buildings of more than nine units. Wiener called the package of bills “a very healthy down payment” toward addressing the state’s housing shortage, but warned that it will take “years of sustained focus and work” to overcome California’s massive housing shortage.

Among a dozen other bills in the legislative package, passed by the state Senate and Assembly, are measures to increase effective enforcement of state housing laws and requirements, remove barriers to housing development at all income levels, strengthen local housing planning laws, and provide more affordable housing for farmworkers across California.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, called the package now on the governor’s desk “landmark measures to help those with the fewest options when it comes to housing.” And Gov. Brown has said through a spokesperson that he supports all the bills. Some of the versions awaiting his signature are the result of serious negotiations in which he played a part.

The present dire situation for housing in California has a long history.

For decades, the building of new housing has lagged far behind need, with the greatest gap affecting housing affordable to those with low incomes. Among the contributing factors: cities and towns largely determine where and what kinds of housing can be built. Many have felt pressures from residents who don’t want those with lower-incomes, or people of color, in their neighborhood.

Rapid growth of the high-tech industry in some parts of the state has brought sudden population expansion to urban areas.

Land in California’s coastal areas can cost several times as much per acre as it does in other large urban areas around the country, and state laws mandating that communities earmark land for housing at all income levels haven’t been consistently enforced.

An important factor, housing experts say, was the passage of Proposition 13, a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1978, freezing property taxes at 1975 levels plus 2 percent a year for “inflation,” and limiting reassessment of property value to times when ownership changes or new construction is undertaken. Prop. 13 gave the state the responsibility of distributing property tax revenues to localities, and any new or increased state tax requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses. In the years since, numerous attempts to remove or change Prop. 13 have failed.

Statewide, median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,750, and a two-bedroom unit costs $2,110, with rents soaring far higher in the state’s largest cities. With the current median cost to buy a home $565,000—and higher in coastal areas—ownership is rarely possible for those with lower- or even middle-incomes. Housing costs are considered a major factor in California having the highest poverty rate of any state, with one in five Californians living below the U.S. Census Bureau’s “supplemental poverty threshold” in the last few years.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley, released earlier this month found that some 56 percent of voters have thought about moving because of soaring housing costs. Many have considered leaving the state. Across California, nearly half of voters—and nearly two-thirds in the San Francisco Bay Area—say the crisis is serious.

Housing analysts are calling this year’s package of bills the state’s most ambitious move in many decades, but warn that the measures will take years to bear fruit.

Meanwhile, rents and home prices are likely to keep moving upwards, and affordable housing advocates are vowing to keep up the struggle.

Via People’s World