Recent immigration sweeps divide Redwood City 

While many residents back local police policy against checking immigrants’ paperwork, others are urging city officials to take a stand against people living illegally within city limits.

Local immigrants, frightened by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweeps in early February, kept children home from school and avoided work for fear that they would be arrested and deported. Redwood City Coalition for Immigrant Rights is working to assure those immigrants that local police officers were not involved in those sweeps and that they are not checking residents’ citizenship status unless they commit a crime.

However, some in Redwood City think that living here without documentation is crime enough.

"I don’t want the City Council to support illegal residents — I want you to support legal citizens," resident Aaron Lucien said. Others said that day laborers and immigrants willing to accept low-wage jobs make it more difficult to find work or affordable housing.

Locals responded to newspaper reports that Redwood City officials were considering a sanctuary city ordinance, similar to ones in San Francisco and San Jose, which discourage police from checking paperwork or engaging in deportation activity.

"If you sanction illegal immigrants, you would make Redwood City a magnet," Ed Lee said. "Are property owners willing to shoulder the burden of paying for immigrants’ services?"

While the coalition isn’t asking Redwood City to go that far, it is working on ways to create consensus and reduce the divisiveness created by the sweeps, according to Sheryl Bergman of the International Institute of San Francisco.

"‘Sanctuary’ is a pretty vague concept — but we feel there’s wide recognition on all sides that our current immigration system needs to be fixed," Bergman said. "This is not the time to be investing local tax dollars in the enforcement of laws we know to be broken."

Although there are no accurate tallies of the local immigrant population, the U.S. Census shows that one-third of Redwood City and San Mateo County residents are immigrants; the majority of those are from Central and South America.

Between Oct. 1, 2006, and Jan. 26, 2007, ICE officers have arrested 838 people in the Bay Area, 500 of whom had already received a deportation order from a judge and 338 of whom were newly entered into deportation proceedings, according to ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. Although ICE officers have not returned to San Francisco or the Peninsula, they swept San Rafael last week, Bergman said.

Despite passionate views on both sides, city officials hope to restore a sense of community disrupted by the sweeps, Redwood City Mayor Barbara Pierce said.

"We’ve spent a lot of time making sure people feel safe and that they will be treated with respect," Pierce said.

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Beth Winegarner

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