Immigration raids draw dawn protest
Jim Staats
Article Launched: 03/09/2007 09:30:44 AM PST

About 75 community members and clergy leaders clogged San Rafael's Canal district sidewalks at dawn Friday to offer solidarity for the community - with plans to continue morning protests until the immigration raids which began this week are stopped.

Protesters gathered at the Country Club Bowling Alley on Vivian Street at 5 a.m. Friday, many with candles in hand, and dispersed to various intersections throughout the neighborhood for a three-hour morning vigil in support of immigrants in the Canal neighborhood.

Marinwood resident Bob Owen, 67, who arrived at 5 a.m. with his wife Jill, said he was moved by the stories he heard from talking with people who live in the Canal area.

"A woman who has a child here was crying as she told me about what has been going on," he said. "It's been so terrible for them. They're afraid to go to school, to the store. They're being told not to answer the door. I'm here out of a feeling of solidarity."

"We know people have been feeling afraid and we want them to know they're not alone," said Jill Owen, 63.

Agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security, have swept into the Canal neighborhood in the early morning hours this week and arrested an unspecified number of people, many rousted from their homes, as part of a stepped-up campaign dubbed Operation Return to Sender to send illegal immigrants out of the country.

The Rev. Carol Hovis, executive director of the Marin Interfaith Council, which organized the protest, said the early-morning arrival was timed to meet the early-morning raids by officials of the Immigration and Customers Enforcement.

"We wanted to be here to say to the children and

Sister Bernadette Wombacher (right) and Sister Marion Irvine were among the gathering of about 75 protesters who took part in a pre-dawn candlelight vigil near Canal and Belvedere streets Friday, protesting recent raids made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)families it's safe," she said.

Marjorie Delgadillo, 23, a counselor at the Marin Childcare Council in San Rafael and Petaluma resident, arrived at 5 a.m. to show her support for community members with whom she lived shortly after arriving from Nicaragua at the age of 5.

"I feel that it could have easily been me," said Delgadillo, who earned her residency at the age of 16. "I could have been one of the residents of the Canal who went through this horrible ordeal. It just hit so close to home for me. I'm a kid from the neighborhood."

Though raids have also taken place in Novato this week, Hovis said protesters came to the Canal "because this neighborhood is such a close-knit neighborhood.

"It means a lot but it also means this has become a target," she said.

The protesters who planned to remain through 8:30 a.m. did not see any immigration officials arrive on Friday.

Hovis said they will return at 5 a.m. every weekday morning next week.

As people congregated below on the sidewalks of the Medway Drive and Canal Street intersection, residents in surrounding apartment buildings peered down from their balconies and the occasional driver tooted a horn in support.

The Rev. Julianne Stokstad, pastor of the First Congregational Church in San Rafael, stood on the sidewalk with candle in hand and fully adorned in her religious garments.

"I understand our laws but the methods are wrong," she said. "I don't approve of the methods used particularly with the children. I'm here to show my solidarity and support."

Julie Long, owner of Bellam Produce Market at the corner of Bellam Boulevard and Belvedere Street, said the raids have created a ghost town out of the neighborhood and dropped her daily sales from $3,000 a day to about $700.

"I've been here 10 years and it's the worst I've ever seen it," she said. "It's pretty scary. There's nobody on the streets and I don't have one single person in my store right now."

"This is just the beginning," said Sister Marion Irvine, of the Dominican Convent in San Rafael. "We're going to be here until ICE decides this is not the place to be."