Originaaly published by LA Times
Benjamin Prado finished his patrol of Southeast San Diego just before 7 a.m. Thursday, as early-morning shoppers stocked up on hot dogs and carne asada at the Northgate Market at 43rd and Alpha streets.
Prado wasn't just on an ordinary neighborhood patrol. He and three other volunteers were on the lookout for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"Over the past several months we've seen a higher presence of ICE in this area," said Prado, a member of Unión del Barrio, a volunteer immigrant-rights group. "Residents, neighbors and friends have called to let us know that ICE is here."
Prado and a group of about a dozen volunteers have patrolled the streets of City Heights, Linda Vista, Sherman Heights, Shelltown, and Logan Heights twice a week for nearly a year.
Volunteers have gone on 97 patrols, made contact with ICE seven times and driven more than 2,300 miles since the patrols began, Prado said.
This is an example of how some immigrant communities in San Diego have responded to the Trump administration's threats of increased deportations. Unión del Barrio say these patrols are a direct response to the administration's crackdown on illegal immigration and the volunteers view themselves as the community's first line of defense.
Unión del Barrio was founded in 1981 by a group of activists in Logan Heights. They speak out against police violence, support political causes, and build community through educational workshops and events throughout Southern California. The group now has headquarters in Los Angeles and San Diego.
The goal of these patrols is to look for federal immigration agents and alert communities of their presence. The volunteers want to stop immigration raids or arrests.
For Armando Abundiz, who rode in the front passenger seat, ready to hit record on a camera in case they found anyone, the pre-dawn patrol was a fitting way to start Independence Day.
"Being watchful of your government is as American as apple pie," he said.
The volunteers don't confront or engage with immigration agents. They simply observe and report, Abundiz noted.
Abundiz and Prado want to stop the raids and arrests because sometimes they result in family separation and collateral arrests — meaning undocumented immigrants without a criminal background who were not the targets of the raid.
"We have to defend our families because the nucleus of our society is being destroyed systematically by a state policy," Prado said.
A normal patrol consists of a lot of driving — with gas paid for by the volunteers. Teams of two drive around certain neighborhoods to look for ICE vehicles. Specifically, they look for tell-tell signs like parked cars with tinted windows, usually clean, mostly American-made, and always with someone sitting in the driver's seat. If you look through the front windshield, which is also tinted, you can sometimes see a steel mesh cage in the backseat, Abundiz noted.
If they find a car, and verify that it belongs to an immigration agent, the volunteers will livestream a feed on social media and alert locals about their presence. The goal is to keep undocumented immigrants whom ICE may be targeting away from the area.
Abundiz said it is important to verify before posting anything online because false reports of raids that spread on social media often create a panic throughout immigrant communities.
Thursday's patrol was uneventful. Prado and Abundiz drove by apartment complexes where ICE agents have arrested undocumented immigrants, parks, schools, businesses. But the streets were quiet on the national holiday.
Still, Prado said, it's good to show the community that they are out there.
Before Unión del Barrio initiates patrols in a neighborhood, it holds meetings and workshops with local residents. This includes hosting know-your-rights workshops to teach people tactics like opening the door for ICE agents only if they have a warrant signed by a judge.
The patrols are going so well, that in April, Prado and other volunteers went to Los Angeles to teach Unión del Barrio members how to conduct their own ICE-watch patrols.
Here in San Diego, Unión del Barrio is considering expanding to more neighborhoods or increasing the frequency of the bi-weekly patrols in response to threats from President Donald Trump to deport, "millions of illegal aliens."
The president made slowing down the flow of illegal immigration one of his central campaign promise in 2016 and has increased immigration enforcement during his first term. The administration maintains that tougher laws and enforcement, including a border wall, could help deter migrants from entering the United States without proper documentation.
On June 17 Trump tweeted, "Next week ICE will begin the process of removing millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in."
The enforcement action specifically targeted 2,000 people who had missed immigration court dates or had already been served deportation orders.
San Diego's local ICE office issued this statement Friday:
"ICE conducts targeted enforcement operations with the safety of the community it conducts them in at the forefront. Targeted enforcement operations are a necessity for ICE to ensure the integrity of the immigration system. Law enforcement operations are sensitive, any interaction with the public by ICE is done in a professional and courteous manner to ensure both the safety of the officer and the community."
When asked about the planned raids by ABC News, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Mark Morgan said their purpose was to comply with the rule of law.
"This is not about fear," Morgan told ABC. "No one is instilling fear in anyone. This is about the rule of law and maintaining integrity of the system."
However, the day before the date of the raid, Trump said he'd delay it by two weeks to give lawmakers a chance to pass legislation that will solve the, "Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border."
Via tweet, the president warned that if legislators didn't get it done, "Deportations start!"
That two-week deadline expires Sunday.
Even if the raids don't materialize, Pardo said, the damage is already done.
People are scared, which is why he and the other volunteers will continue to patrol the streets at 5 a.m. before heading to their day jobs and pay for the gas money out of their own pockets.
"It's just part of the sacrifice that we do because at the end of the day we care about our neighbors," Prado said.