SAN FRANCISCO — Representatives of a broad immigrant rights, labor, faith and community coalition gathered at City Hall Dec. 18 — the day set by the United Nations as International Migrants Day — to call on the city and its mayor to live up to the 1989 Sanctuary City Ordinance.
The San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee of more than 30 organizations also urged revision of the city’s new juvenile justice policy requiring probation officers to automatically refer immigrant youth to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prior to a hearing. The committee called on the city to set a specific date to implement its municipal ID card program, work to end federal ICE raids and police collaboration with ICE, and preserve funding for vital services including those for immigrant youth and families.
“As a member of the immigrant community, I think it is important for everyone in San Francisco and the country to understand the contributions all of us as immigrants have made, whether documented or not … and that we as a community are not going to tolerate second class status,” incoming Supervisor David Campos told the crowd. Campos, who said he is the first supervisor to have been undocumented at some point, called the Board of Supervisors “the voice that stands up for immigrants in this city.” Six other supervisors also addressed the rally.
Abigail Trillin of Legal Services for Children told the heart-wrenching story of a 14-year-old boy who was detained after an incident at school that would have brought minor sanctions to a citizen. Instead, she said, the boy was placed in immigration detention, despite having never been in trouble before, and his father was forced to choose between leaving his son there or risking deportation himself by picking the boy up.
In a telephone interview, Angela Chan, staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, said a change last summer in city policy toward immigrant youth had set off a wave of concern leading to the Immigrant Rights Defense Committee’s proposals. Where formerly, courts did not refer youth to immigration authorities until all other factors had been considered, Chan said, ICE is now informed of youths’ possible undocumented status even before they have had a hearing or a chance to get an attorney. She said in recent months least 72 young people have been turned over to ICE in that way.
“This has had a huge ripple effect in the community,” Chan said. “You can’t expect to keep trust between the immigrant community and the city if the city is not protecting its most vulnerable citizens.”
San Francisco’s 1989 “City of Refuge” ordinance bars city workers from helping ICE to investigate or make arrests unless required by federal or state law or a warrant. The ordinance has been reaffirmed by city authorities, including at an event last April where Mayor Gavin Newsom and others launched a public awareness campaign to promote the policy and to assure undocumented residents they could use city services without being reported to federal immigration authorities.
The mayor ordered the “top-down review” of policy toward undocumented residents last summer after a spate of negative publicity about alleged shielding of youth accused of drug offenses. The review has also included examination of city contracts with organizations that might serve undocumented residents, and cuts or delays in funding.
At about the same time, Newsom expressed interest in the 2010 governor’s race.
The mayor also delayed implementation of a city ID card program approved last year for all San Francisco residents and okayed by a Superior Court judge this fall. Following protests by seniors, the LGBT community, homeless residents and immigrant rights advocates, the mayor has said the program will be implemented in January but rights advocates remain cautious.
In a conversation after the rally, Adoubou Traore, executive director of the San Francisco-based African Immigrant and Refugee Resource Center, said that besides facing the same problems as other immigrants, newcomers from Africa are often fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries. “They view the U.S. as the ‘promised land’ where we will see an end to this oppression,” he said. “It is shocking to them to find that here in America, we face similar issues.”