On Saturday, November 14, around two hundred people gathered at Union Square in San Francisco for a protest calling for the closure of detention camps and the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The protest began at noon, and attendees marched around the San Francisco Tenderloin district before ending the protest at the San Francisco Federal Building at around 4:30 PM.
The protest was organized by several groups, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), A Day Without an Immigrant Coalition, Free Them All Coalition, and the Democratic Socialists of America. Among the various groups at the protest, three main calls echoed throughout the march: “Close the Camps,” “Abolish ICE,” and “Free Them All”.
Jael Castro, a member of the PSL, explained the reasoning and urgency behind this protest. She described the last four years of the Trump presidency, detailing the Muslim ban, mass deportation, as well the separation of families in detention camps.
“But now that Trump is not elected president anymore, we’ve got Biden,” Castro said. She explained Biden’s plans to work with Cecelia Muñoz, who has been on the record supporting deportation and detention camps. “That shows us that the fight has to continue,” Castro explained. “We can’t trust Democrats, nor Republicans to free our immigrants.”
About halfway through, the protestors stopped at the corner of Taylor and Turk Street, where the Taylor Street Parolee Services Center is located. The building is a halfway house for inmates and parolees exiting the prison system and preparing to enter back into normal life. The facility is owned by GEO Group, a real estate trust company that also runs seven immigration detention facilities in California.
Several speakers, many speaking in both Spanish and English, brought forward the significance of the building, calling it a “soft prison.” Some residents of the building even came to their windows to see what was going on, many of them joining in on the crowd’s cheers and boos.
“To the people who live here: we do see you, we appreciate your struggles and that you are doing things to improve your life,” said one speaker, looking up at the windows. “But there’s a better way than for-profit prisons running services that people actually need.”
Another speaker, a registered nurse representing the Do No Harm Coalition, alleged, “This nation presents us with concentration camps that are corralling human beings, separating them from their families, removing their uteruses, and causing unimaginable trauma, all while this is sanctioned by the government.” The crowd booed in response. “These camps are profiting off of the suffering of humans,” she said.
Speakers called for action, including ways the re-entry facility could be turned into a place for maintaining historical legacy, offering public services, and more.
Despite the fact that Joe Biden won the presidential election in early November, many of the protesters felt it was now even more essential to work for progress. One protester, who chose to remain anonymous, explained, “A lot of people saw [the election] as the beginning of a sort of revolution. Once we have [Biden] in office, we can begin to fight for the things that we want and the things that need to be changed systematically in America.”
As the protest came to a close at the San Francisco Federal Building, organizers spray painted the words “Close the Camps” and “Free the Children” on the ground, and left red paint hand prints, emanating bloody hands. They also allowed more speakers to come up as the PSL set up an information table with pamphlets, books, and information on future protests.
Castro mentioned an upcoming marching camp with the Free Them All Coalition, which involves a march from Oceanside to San Diego in December, although it is still being planned right now.
“The PSL is fully committed to supporting any other actions that will be planned in the near future,” Castro said.