Matt Cohen
Matt Cohen

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Over the course of four days last week, ICE arrested nearly 500 people across the nation, including 14 in D.C., in a sweeping series of raids targeting sanctuary cities. Since the raids, Mayor Muriel Bowser, who declared D.C. a sanctuary city earlier this year, has been silent on the issue.

Last night, nearly two dozen activists associated with Sanctuary DMV—a network of sanctuary congregations established to help area immigrant communities—marched from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s D.C. headquarters to the Wilson Building, calling on Bowser to speak out and do more to help the 14 undocumented District residents arrested last week.

“From my perspective she’s the mayor of D.C., and for the federal government to go in and take 14 of her residents, regardless of their justification, and particularly when the justification for it is retaliation, I think warrants a response,” says Mary Small, a volunteer with Sanctuary DMV. “She doesn’t need more information than that to respond.”

City Paper has contacted Mayor Bowser’s office and will update this post if it hears back. 

According to ICE, five of the 14 individuals arrested last week in the sweep dubbed “Operation Safe City” had previous criminal convictions, including one person from El Salvador with previous convictions for possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful ammunition.

But for Small and the rest of Sanctuary DMV, the recent ICE raids signals a discomforting precedence. “We are appalled by ICE’s activity in our city,” said Sanctuary DMV member Brandon Wu in a statement. “This operation was a cruel PR stunt and, according to ICE, an act of retaliation against sanctuary cities like ours.”

Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large) denounced the raids in a statement, saying, “ICE has stated that last week’s raids targeted sanctuary cities, based on the inaccurate stereotype that sanctuary policies increase crime—in fact, the opposite is true. In light of this, we must reemphasize that D.C. is a sanctuary jurisdiction, and that the MPD does not cooperate with ICE. While federal control of our judiciary poses a barrier to our sanctuary policies, reminding us of the need for statehood, it remains our responsibility to demonstrate to residents that the D.C. government and MPD are not agents of federal immigration policy.”

This month Sanctuary DMV launched a rapid response network to intervene in such raids. Those witnessing or experiencing an ICE raid can call (202) 335-1183 and the network will dispatch trained volunteers to go to the scene. “The idea of the network is that when ICE shows up, we show up,” says volunteer Ben Beachy. “It’s something that immigrants and immigrant-led organizations have asked for as another line of defense. We’re very aware that ICE is not sitting idly by and so neither do we.”

Beachy says Sanctuary DMV’s rapid response network wasn’t activated during the “Operation Safe City” raids. “We had just launched the network just shortly before [the 14 people were detained],” he says. Small adds that Sanctuary DMV still has “a lot of work to do” to circulate the rapid response network phone number among immigrant communities in the D.C. area.