REDWOOD CITY — Nearly three weeks after a round of federal immigration raids that have unnerved Redwood City's large Latino community, a dozen immigration advocacy groups have banded together to form a coalition whose aim is to convert Redwood City and San Mateo County into a safe haven for illegal immigrants.

"Our vision would be for Redwood City and San Mateo County to be a community that's safe for all of its residents," said Sheryl Bergman of the International Institute of San Francisco, whose Redwood City office assists the local Latino community. "We want public assurance from our local leadership that parents will be safe when they walk their children to school."

To combat the fear and paranoia, the newly formed Redwood City Immigrant Rights Coalition — which includes the International Institute, El Concilio of San Mateo County and a variety of nonprofits, many already working with the local Latino community — is recommending that local government intervene.

To that end, the coalition is drafting a resolution that it will pass to the Redwood City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. The hope, said Bergman, is that local officials will ultimately sign a measure denouncing the recent sweeps by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and declare the county and the city "sanctuaries" for illegal immigrants.

Since the raids, Bergman said, Redwood City is still living in fear.


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Rather than walk their children to school, many parents have askedU.S. citizens to do the job for them. Meanwhile, a small underground economy has formed on the back of illegal immigrants too fearful to go to market: Both citizens, and the fearless among the immigrants, have taken to shopping for milk and rice and charging for their services.

In the Bay Area, the Richmond City Council passed a resolution condemning the ICE sweeps, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider a similar resolution at the end of the month. Although ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice declined to say whether local officials' condemnation would affect federal anti-illegal-immigrant operations, the Redwood City Immigrant Rights Coalition believes that a local condemnation would make an important symbolic stance against "a broken national immigration system" and comfort a shaken community.

Members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the Redwood City Council did not return calls for comment by press time Wednesday.

The coalition also intends to step up legal education for illegal immigrants — holding workshops and training sessions on constitutional rights for residents living here illegally — and pool resources to assist families affected by the arrest of illegal immigrants affected by future ICE operations.

The recent ICE sweeps are part of the federal agency's Operation Return to Sender, a stepped-up campaign to round up illegal immigrants with arrest or deportation records. Since June, the operation has arrested more than 13,000 residents, many without any prior charges to their name, said Kice.

Staff writer Michael Manekin can be reached at (650) 348-4331 or by e-mail at mmanekin@sanmateocountytimes.com.