About 100 protesters marched in the streets of downtown Los Angeles Thursday evening, fueled by fear and outrage after reports that federal agents had carried out a series of immigration raids across Southern California earlier in the day.
Civil rights groups said Thursday they had been alerted by “credible sources,” including attorneys, that immigration “sweeps” are taking place in the greater Los Angeles area.
The reported raids come as Southern California lawmakers and immigration advocates draw battle lines against President Donald Trump’s hard-line stance on illegal immigration.
Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, said they started getting calls just after 11 a.m. Thursday.
“(Attorneys) were reporting that their clients were being picked up — many who actually have outstanding orders of deportation (and) others who did not,” Salas said from the street in front of the detention center. “We want to alert our community and also get answers from ICE.”
In an emailed statement, ICE said it conducts “enforcement actions every day around the country and here in Southern California as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to uphold public safety and border security.”
“Our operations are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities,” the statement said. “To that end, ICE’s routine immigration enforcement actions are ongoing and we make arrests every day.”
However, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official could not confirm a specific operation and said any actions Thursday were not out of the ordinary.
“We’re doing routine enforcement … as we’ve always done,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE’s western region. “Nothing has changed.”
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) said in a news release Thursday afternoon that the immigration raids are taking place in at least five locations — Van Nuys, San Bernardino, Downey, Santa Paula and Oxnard.
A number of immigrants “have been detained and are being taken to the downtown ICE office,” CHIRLA said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also tweeted out that “ICE conducted multiple raids of homes across the city.”
About 40 people initially gathered for a vigil at 5 p.m. Thursday in front of the Alameda Detention Center in downtown L.A., where one CHIRLA attorney said about 100 people were being held.
The vigil soon morphed into a protest as attendees, some carrying signs and holding candles, chanted “Let them out!” and marched back and forth in front of the detention center’s driveways — apparently to block cars from coming out.
The protest swelled to about 100 people and moved into the streets, where a crowd marched on Aliso Street before blocking the entrance to the southbound 101 Freeway.
Los Angeles Police Department officers responded to the scene, telling protesters to disperse “or you will be arrested.”
No arrests had been made as of 7:30 p.m., according to LAPD officials.
LAPD Lt. Al Labrada called the crowd “peaceful” and said the main concerns were the flow of traffic and pedestrian safety.
Kenia C., a 16-year-old protester who said her parents are undocumented, said she fears the possibility of their arrest and deportation.
“That will tear our family apart. I had to come here and stand up for what I believe in,” Kenia said. “Since my parents can’t do it, I’ll do it for them.”
State Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, released a statement Thursday night, calling for ICE officials to address the public about the reported raids.
“We need urgent clarification from ICE on how many people were detained, if any have serious medical conditions, if they have had access to adequate legal counsel or if local law enforcement participated in these raids,” Mendoza said.
California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, took to Twitter to speak out against ICE’s actions.
“(ICE is) refusing to list how many were detained today or provide names,” he wrote. “Refusing access to counsel so no way to verify what they’re saying.”
De León later released a full statement, in both English and Spanish, advising his constituents to know their rights and vowing to “aggressively” defend law-abiding immigrants.
“It is now clear the Trump Administration is not concerned with public safety, they are only focused on ripping hard-working men, women, and children from their families and communities,” De León said. “Mass deportations will not make us safer, instead they will simply undermine our state’s economy.”
U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenás, D-Los Angeles, also released a statement Thursday night, pinning the action on the Trump administration.
“It’s outrageous that ICE would go into the homes of hardworking people and tear them away from their children,” Cardenás said. “I’m demanding that ICE provide me, the Representative of this community, with more information and the purpose of these raids… I will not sit quietly by while they seek to harm the people of my district.”
A Department of Homeland Security official said that reports about the number of immigration-related arrests made Thursday were “grossly exaggerated.”