Occupy Oakland Arrest Thrusts Protesters into Battle Over Immigration

Occupy Oakland protesters seemed to be braced for just about anything that could arise – except, evidently, the raging issues of immigration and deportation.

Now those issues are on their radar on the heels of the arrest Monday of a fellow protester, Francisco Ramos-Stierle, who apparently is in the U.S. illegally.

The Mexican native, 36, was arrested during the police sweep of the encampment outside City Hall, and is being detained because of a federal immigration hold.

A group of Occupy Oakland protesters has rallied around his case, while trying to learn about the complexities of immigration in the process.

On Monday night, back at Frank Ogawa Plaza, where protesters had been evicted 12 hours before, a small group of occupiers held an assembly to discuss, among other cases, Ramos's detention.

The group discussion focused on how to bail out Ramos, who is known as “Pancho,” from jail. People on immigration holds typically cannot be bailed out, his supporters learned.

One participant repeatedly pointed out his case is different than those of other arrested protesters because he’s an immigrant without legal papers.

“But isn’t Oakland a sanctuary city?” the moderator of the meeting finally asked, apparently unaware of the Secure Communities, a federal program under which local authorities run the names and fingerprints of people arrested through a database to check their legal status.

Since 2010, Alameda County has agreed to collaborate with Secure Communities.

Friends and supporters of Ramos held a rally outside a different jail, in downtown Oakland, on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the jail explained that the Alameda County Sheriff has no control over federal immigration holds.

Still, by Tuesday, a “liberate Pancho Ramos” letter had been signed by 100 people, just two of them Latinos.

“Pancho’s situation represents an important point of connection between the aims of the Occupy Movement and the immigration questions that have become singularly critical in the national dialogue,” reads a press release sent out by the California Immigration Policy Center.

In that sense, “Pancho” could serve the progressive causes he had passionately embraced, as Latinos have not been strongly engaged by the movement.

Suzy Hernández knows that well.

A day before police dismantled the Occupy Oakland encampment, Hernández, an Oakland native born in Los Angeles, was there. At that hour, around 4 p.m., she was the only Hispanic in Frank Ogawa Plaza, in the city’s downtown.

When she got requests from Spanish-language news outlets, she quipped: “Looks like I’m the only one who the media can find to talk about Latinos in Occupy Oakland.”

In recent weeks, she said, she already had given interviews to the two Spanish broadcasting stations in the U.S. Hernández contrasted the Latino absence in Oakland with the situation in Los Angeles:  “At night, they play ranchero songs in the encampment of Occupy LA.”

For his part, Ramos is no stranger to activism. In 2004, he got a grant from the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics at UC Berkeley. Four years later, he withdrew from the school in protest, he said at that time, over the university's  “involvement with the production and manufacture of nuclear weapons.”

Nowadays, Ramos is homeless.

“Friends host him and when they can’t, he lives out in the woods,” reads a letter that Samir Patel posted on Change.org, trying to draw the attention of Rep. Barbara Lee to the case.

Ramos was arrested when Oakland police evicted – a second time – protestors from the Occupy encampment.

One photo, showing him meditating while two police officers pick him up from the ground, circulated widely in many news outlets.

Hernández said some of her Latino friends refuse to participate in the Oakland Occupy movement because they feel they would be used by white protesters, who, she said, usually direct the crowd.

José Sandoval, a long-time community activist in the Bay Area, said that a lack of Latino political consciousness is the reason behind the small numbers of Hispanic occupiers.

For María Jiménez, another supporter of Occupy Oakland, the reason for the dearth of Latinos at the protest is, basically, that they are afraid of being arrested.

Francisco Barradas is a freelance reporter in California. He can be reached at paco@bici.us. Follow him on Twitter: @b_i_c_i

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