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Street Vending

The Super Bowl Brought ICE Agents to Los Angeles to Target Street Vendors On One Of Their Busiest Weekends Of The Year

3:01 PM PST on February 14, 2022

“What hurts the most is not that they take it away but that it all goes to the trash. Whether it’s food that they are confiscating or clothes; it all ends up in the trash,” said street vendor Rubén Leon Sanchez who sold hot dogs outside the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday. 

“That’s our livelihood thrown away.”

The Super Bowl has come and gone to Los Angeles and while fans are still high from the Rams bringing home the Vince Lombardi trophy, many street vendors are still processing that ICE agents were patrolling the same streets they’ve been selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs in for years. 

Initial reports about ICE roaming Inglewood’s SoFi stadium first began to spread on social media last week. Not long after, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that ICE along, with 500 other DHS personnel, would be assisting and supporting the Super Bowl LVI with different forms of security. ICE, in particular, stated they would be present to identify and combat human trafficking, as well as conduct operations targeting counterfeit vendors and merchants. 

The department said this is “part of a crackdown on intellectual property rights violations. These operations help ensure fans are receiving official, safe memorabilia.”

Although many understand the importance of safety surrounding such a large event like the Super Bowl, street vendor advocates saw this as an intimidation tactic to deter street vendors. Vendors who rely on big sporting events like the Super Bowl to make what could be their biggest sales of the year. And although DHS mentioned seeking vendors selling fake merchandise, other street vendors also worried about their safety this weekend, since many street vendors are undocumented.

“Of course hearing that ICE is in the area makes all of us nervous,” said Sanchez. “I don't have papers but regardless we’re going to go sell, God knows we're trying to make a living, we’re not selling drugs or doing anything wrong. It’s unfortunate that they see us like criminals.”

Sanchez, who has been a street vendor in Los Angeles for the past ten years, is one of over 100 street vendors who rely on sales made during large sporting events and concerts. His wife and daughter are also in the business. He explained that he understands the risks he takes when going out to sell as an unpermitted vendor but like many street vendors he has no other choice. Not long after hearing about ICE being in the area, Sanchez said he heard rumors about “the city” (the term used to call Bureau of Street Services, the local government division tasked with enforcing street vending regulations) potentially coming for food vendors. 

Someone told us the city will also be there to take away our food,” Sanchez said in Español. “When you hear the city or law enforcement is around or coming, te da miedo (you get scared) because there's a high possibility of losing everything, but we live off of this so we have to take that risk.”

When L.A. TACO asked Sanchez if he has had encounters with the city in past events, he quickly responded saying “yes.” In 2019 while he was selling outside the Forum, “the city” confiscated his cart and food. He lost over $400 that day. 

For street vendors like Sanchez, in the days leading up to Sunday, ICE had already begun to conduct multiple sweeps around SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and throughout Los Angeles. On Twitter, ICE boasted about confiscating counterfeit merchandise at Santa Fe Springs Swapmeet. And community members also documented merchant vendors getting raided throughout the week. Last Thursday, Homeland Security stated that they had confiscated over $97 million worth of  counterfeit sports-related items.”

In comparison to what the Super Bowl made from ticket sales, advertisements, merchandise sales, and food and alcohol sales, many advocates wonder if these “crackdowns” are necessary. Advocates like Community Power Collective, an organization that helps street vendors in Los Angeles, stated:

“​​While sidewalk vendors throughout Southern California are regularly subject to harassment,

intimidation, arrest, and criminalization from various local law enforcement offices, the days

leading up to Super Bowl LVI have seen this activity take on a disturbing new dimension:

Federal officers from various agencies, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE),

are targeting and criminalizing merchandise vendors making their living in areas around Los

Angeles County. Street vendors are often immigrants, seniors, women, and people of color.

These enforcement agencies acting out in the community are a direct threat to immigrant, senior, and women Angelenos.”

Advocates and street vendors worry not just about this incident with ICE but future events as well, like the L.A. Olympics coming in 2028 and the World Cup in 2026. Of course, we can't forget past instances, like in 2019 when rapper 21 Savage was detained by ICE at the Super Bowl. Many credit Savage’s release to Jay-Z who is said to have hired a lawyer to help the rapper fight his deportation. But like long-time community organizer, Edin Enamorado expressed via his Instagram “Now we have street vendors in L.A., and they don't have a Jay-Z.” 

Yesterday, Enamorado selflessly went to SoFi stadium and confirmed that there were multiple undercover officers patrolling the streets surrounding the stadium, where street vendors were also set up. He ousted two officers in civilian attire, including a Rams jersey, via his Instagram stories. Fatima, a social worker on her way to becoming an attorney who requested that L.A. TACO withhold her full name, was also walking around prepared to help prevent street vendors from being harassed by ICE or law enforcement. She tells L.A. TACO, “the abuse of power and force used yesterday to target the vendors was absolutely unnecessary.”

This is why organizations like CPC and Inclusive Action for the City are encouraging elected officials representing Los Angeles at the federal, state, and local levels to take action to prevent public resources from being used to criminalize vendors who are trying to make a living. 

Before the Bowl, a meeting was also held on Saturday via Zoom for a “know your rights” training session with street vendors in preparation for the Super Bowl. Over 40 street vendors attended the Zoom meeting where they learned how to identify ICE agents and Law enforcement both in and out of uniforms, as well as how to deal with them if they happen to come in contact with them. According to CPC vendors who sold outside and near the stadium were accompanied by lawyers and supporters throughout the day, to make sure potential interactions with ICE or officials did not escalate.

As for street vendors like Sanchez the day before the Super Bowl he felt hopeful, saying: 

“Only God knows how this will go but we’re gonna go. I tell other vendors that we should not be scared. We know our rights. We need to stick together, por que juntos nadie nos detiene (together, nobody can stop us,)” Sanchez said. “We just hope they let us sell in peace, we sell, we clean, we leave.”

For more information on what you can do to help, check out the resources provided at the Koreatown Rapid Response Network Hotline: (323) 894-1504. For more information, click here

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