On the same day Americans demonstrated across the country to protest migrant family separations, hundreds of protesters gathered in a Santa Maria industrial area, about a block away from a residential neighborhood. The group was chanting and singing in front of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility opened in the summer of 2015.
"In 2014, the Santa Maria city planning commision and [city] council ignored the wishes of 3,000 Santa Marians,” Hazel Davalos said into a megaphone. Davalos is an organizer with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a group that advocated for workers' rights.
“They voted to build this ICE facility and let a monster in our midst,” Davalos said to the crowd.
“More than 3,000 people turned out to protest,” said Jorge Manly-Gil, another activist at the event. “And we’re not just talking about the immigrant community that turned out, various sectors of the community turned out to say no—no, we do not need this in our community.”
The ICE facility in Santa Maria is used for briefly holding individuals; it doesn’t have overnight capabilities.
KCBX reached out to ICE officials to find out more about operations at the Santa Maria facility; a representative said they were out of the office and a response would be delayed.
According to Manly-Gil, if a deportation order for an individual is made, they’ll initially be held at the facility for up to 12 hours before being sent to Camarillo in Ventura County. But Manly-Gil said when ICE goes to pick someone up, others may be taken in too.
‘Whomever is around in the immediate area, who can’t demonstrate that they have papers, will also be rounded up,” Manly-Gil said. “Even though there was no deportation order made.”
Manly-Gil said the installation of the ICE facility in Santa Maria, a city made up of many immigrant farmworker families, has had a chilling impact on some in the community.
“People live in very tangible fear,” Manly-Gil said.
“The news that they were going to put in the center was one of the worst I’ve ever heard in my life,” Francisca said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. Francisca didn’t want to use her last name since she was speaking up about ICE. “I’m a mother of children. I’m a single mother. And the thought of this center being here in my community and separating me from my children is the worst thing I can imagine.”
Francisca said she has seen families separated in her community since the ICE facility opened.
“Parents were deported,” Francisco said. “And the children were left here on their own.”
Jorge Manly-Gil said since the Santa Maria ICE facility still has a limited staff, there hasn’t been the same type of large-scale raids that have occurred in other cities.
“The number [of deportations] are not representative of what we see in bigger cities,” Manly-Gil said. “But for those individuals who are rounded up, for those families that are impacted, their lives are torn apart. So you can’t measure that in numbers.”
Manly-Gil alleges there are plans in the works to increase the staffing at the Santa Maria ICE facility by the end of the year.
After a series of speeches wrapped up Saturday afternoon, protesters marched down the street towards a major intersection. Just before they took to the street, event organizer Hazel Davalos reminded demonstrators that in a few months they will be able to directly impact change in the community.
"Votes have consequences, and this November one of the planning commissioners who voted for opening [the ICE facility] and now councilmember is up for re-election in District 4," Davalos said. "Santa Maria voters, you know what to do.”
The crowd began chanting, “Vote them out!”