Immigration agents release Occupy Oakland activist

By Matt O'Brien
Oakland Tribune
Posted: 11/17/2011 11:21:26 AM PST
Updated: 11/17/2011 02:28:37 PM PST

OAKLAND -- Federal immigration agents on Thursday detained an Occupy Oakland protester who had been arrested while meditating outside Oakland City Hall, but then released him a few hours later.

Francisco "Pancho" Ramos Stierle, an immigrant from Mexico, was released on his own recognizance but must now appear before an immigration judge on some future date.

"It will be up to the immigration courts to determine whether he has a legal basis to remain in the United States," said spokeswoman Virginia Kice of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The immigration agency, known as ICE, picked up the 36-year-old activist Thursday morning at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and took him to federal detention in San Francisco.

His attorney, Yolanda Huang, was frustrated that Alameda County officials said they had no authority to stop Ramos Stierle from being handed over to ICE, believing they "passed the buck."

A county court commissioner and representatives from the district attorney's office and the sheriff's department all said they had no authority over a federal immigration matter.

Oakland police arrested Ramos Stierle before dawn on Monday as police were clearing out the Occupy encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. He and two other activists had been meditating for hours in the plaza's amphitheater as riot police surrounded the camp and ordered everyone to disperse.

Ramos Stierle and 31 others protesters were arrested at the plaza and booked in a county jail. The other protesters were released later that day, but ICE asked the county to hold Ramos Stierle after a fingerprint check with the federal Secure Communities immigration database flagged him as deportable.

The District Attorney's Office dropped all protest-related charges against Ramos Stierle on Wednesday but said it could not undo the federal hold. Huang blasted them for that decision.

"The state of Illinois has declared it is not mandatory. The county of Santa Clara has said it's voluntary and San Francisco has said it's voluntary," she said. "Just because someone tells you you have to comply doesn't make you a robot. You have to do an independent analysis."

Raymond Lara, deputy counsel for Alameda County, said the county's approach to federal immigration detainers is the "sheriff's policy."

"The position of the sheriff's office is if the federal agency puts a hold on someone, we honor that hold," said Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesman for the department. "We're not privy to all the information on why that hold is placed on someone."

Friends have said Ramos Stierle came to the Bay Area on a student visa to enter a graduate science program at UC Berkeley, but that visa expired after he dropped out in 2008. He became a full-time community activist and peace advocate.

Huang said lawyers asked ICE to use its discretion to let him go. The Obama administration has said since this summer that it will focus on deporting criminals while halting the deportation of some immigrants with strong community ties and no criminal record. By that definition, said Huang, Ramos Stierle deserves to stay in Oakland.

"What Pancho was doing is he was feeding the poor and teaching meditation sessions in the Fruitvale," she said. "But rather than keeping this person who was contributing to the community, we're deporting him. That makes no sense whatsoever."