In the early morning light, former UC Berkeley graduate student Francisco “Pancho” Ramos Stierle sat meditating with three others in the amphitheater by Frank Ogawa Plaza. While police officers moved in to dismantle the Occupy Oakland encampment, Stierle calmly and silently submitted as officers arrested him for failure to disperse.
Stierle — known throughout the Bay Area as a nonviolent spiritual activist — was held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before being turned over Thursday morning for detainment and possible deportation to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which eventually released him later in the day with a notice to appear before an immigration judge in the future.
The incident has prompted a discussion in Berkeley of the flaws in the country’s immigration system. Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday asking Alameda County to reconsider undocumented immigrants policies.
“The fact that they released him is a good sign,” said Randall Amster, one of the individuals who started a petition for Stierle’s release. “It shows that they see that he is grounded in the local community and they don’t consider him a flight risk.”
After immigrating from Mexico to study astrophysics at UC Berkeley as a graduate student, Stierle dropped out in 2008 due to his opposition to nuclear proliferation. He has been involved in the Occupy movement and past protests on campus.
An online petition for Stierle’s freedom started after his arrest gathered more than 6,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, according to Melissa Dickman, who also helped start the petition and is a friend of Stierle’s. As of press time, the petition had over 8,000 signatures.
“This isn’t just about Pancho,” Dickman said. “This is about needing to look at immigration and human rights policy in this country.”
Supporters took to Facebook, Twitter and blogs to encourage people to sign the petition and call local and state representatives, the San Francisco ICE offices and Alameda County prosecutors to demand Stierle’s release.
UC Berkeley sophomore Rosa Hernandez said she looks up to Stierle because he was studying for his Ph.D. as an undocumented student and because of his moral decision to drop out when he learned that his work could help create “safer bombs.”
“This has brought attention to the fact that a lot of things that the Occupy movement is asking for are in line with what undocumented students are seeking,” Hernandez said. “We’re getting people to talk about the Occupy movement, police brutality and undocumented issues.”
According to a statement from ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice, Stierle was “released on his own recognizance pending a hearing before an immigration judge. It will be up to the immigration courts to determine whether he has a legal basis to remain in the United States.”
No date has been set for Stierle’s hearing.
Adelyn Baxter covers city government.
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