About 30 protesters gathered Saturday for a march through Santa Maria that led to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, where participants called for change in the treatment of the undocumented community, in local leadership and in the funding of local police.
The group, which gathered at 11 a.m. outside Kohl's on South Broadway, walked northward on Broadway, then turned on Betteravia Road toward the Santa Maria Police Department before heading south on Skyway Drive. Protesters then turned on Depot Street toward the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office at 740 Century St., which was closed for the day.
The action was not led by any single organization but included various community members with support from the Santa Maria Youth Abolitionists, said Santa Maria resident and protest attendee Chuy Caracoles.
"It's basically just members of the community," Caracoles said, looking at the individuals seated outside the doors of the facility with signs stating "Families belong together" and "Melt ICE."
Protests outside the ICE facility also took place on June 30 and July 15, with concerns about the facility stretching back several years. In 2014, over 1,000 people attended a City Council meeting with concerns about bringing the facility to Santa Maria, which the council ultimately approved.
While not a detention center, the site serves as a processing and holding area for individuals recently released from local prison or jail who may be subject to deportation following their release, as described by Los Angeles Field Office Deputy Director David Marin in 2015.
Outside the ICE facility, participants held a teach-in, discussing the need for defunding of local police, or limiting police budgets to reallocate money to other community services, as well as the need for further support of farmworkers and undocumented individuals on the Central Coast.
Attendees Jackie Vargas and an individual named Bam said they chose to participate in the event because of deep connections to the subject of undocumented and immigrant rights, having had family members deported themselves.
“It’s a touchy, personal topic for us. It’s something we both feel strongly about,” Vargas said.
Bam described how deportation threatens the basic rights of those who are just looking to support themselves and their families.
"It's a thing that happens, and that's why we're here to fight things like that, so future generations don't have to live through this trauma," Bam said. "There are people who are coming here literally to work. We're all human beings and deserve basic human rights."
One criticism expressed by participants was the lack of action by the Santa Maria City Council to divert more budget funds from the Santa Maria police toward other community resources in the most recent budget cycle.
While cuts were made to the department due to the COVID-19 financial crisis, police retained the largest cut of the pie with $33 million allocated for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Nipomo resident Orel Alcanpar encouraged participants to vote in the upcoming election, calling on them to vote for leaders who will make local change such as granting more rights to farmworkers, fighting systematic racism and cutting the police budget.
"It's hard to believe in politicians, but we can at least vote some of them out," Alcanpar said.
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