DETROIT - Like an unreal scene from a bad movie, agents from the Detroit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, driving six large tinted-glass SUVs, surrounded the Hope of Detroit Academy elementary school and playground on March 31.
Parents dropping their children off at school became the targets of the federal immigration agents.
As the school was encircled, two families took refuge inside. Two additional families were followed and detained after dropping off children.
At an April 6 press conference to protest the action, Hope principal Ali Abdel said he was outraged by the action. The parents, he said, "are hardworking people, not criminals."
The school became a frightened "ghost town" because of the raid, the principal said. After the afternoon bell, some parents were afraid to pick up their children, he said.
Abdel said the raid has had lasting effects, with some students no longer coming to school, others asking what is going to happen to them and many having trouble focusing on their studies.
"We want this to stop," he declared.
The press conference was held outside the school despite cold rain. Hope of Detroit Academy is located in the largely Latino community of Southwest Detroit.
Speakers laid the blame for the outrageous actions at the feet of the Detroit ICE director, Rebecca Adducci.
Democratic State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents the area, said such actions are becoming a pattern under Adducci, with reports of agents setting up checkpoints and watching schools, churches and supermarkets.
Many speakers pointed out that this is out of compliance with ICE's own internal policies, which say agents should refrain from actions near schools, churches and other sensitive areas. The school adjoins St. Francis D'Assisi Church.
Ryan Bates, director of the Alliance for Immigrant Rights and Reform in Michigan, said that when he got a call about the incident his reaction was, "I didn't believe it. It was so outrageous, so foolish, so cruel."
He said he went straight to the scene and asked ICE agents if they had warrants. Their answer, he said, was, "We don't need a warrant to be on a public street in front of a school."
Told they had terrified students and adults, the agents finally departed. But, principal Abdel reported, "they returned later that day in time for the closing bell."
Two weeks before the surrounding of the school, another horrible incident occurred.
Parent Rogelio Perez told the crowd, "I have three beautiful children, 9, 5 and 3. I was living the American dream. I was working and my children were going to the school."
However everything changed the morning of March 23 after he dropped his kids off at school.
As he pulled up to his home, he saw lights flash. "It was ICE," he said. Although he had done nothing wrong and they had no warrant, they illegally forced their way into his home. The search resulted in the detention of his wife who is six months pregnant. She was imprisoned and denied access to her medication and medical care. She has since been deported to Mexico with her three U.S. citizen children.
Residents here ask: Will the "unthinkable" continue to happen?
Lawrence Garcia, president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, said the community is demanding a full investigation to determine the persons responsible for authorizing these "out-of-control" actions, censure and some form of punishment for the wrongdoers, and finally reassurance that ICE will stand by internal policies and respect laws like the Fourth Amendment that prohibit warrantless searches and improper targeting of people.
If not addressed within seven days, speakers said, a complaint will be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Photo: Ryan Bates, director of the Alliance for Immigrant Rights and Reform in Michigan, speaks at the April 6 press conference outside Hope of Detroit Academy in Southwest Detroit. Listening behind him are, left to right: State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (holding pad), Hope principal Ali Abdel, State Rep. Harvey Santana, and Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan President Lawrence Garcia. Photo courtesy of Reform Immigration for America - Michigan