Thursday, October 22, 2009

San Francisco: A Sanctuary City?

San Francisco, being the city that it is, finds itself once again embroiled in struggle: the mayor vs. the board of supervisors, the City-By-the-Bay vs. the US goverment.  This time the issue is about the rights of immigrant youth.

For the past 20 years, San Francisco has been a sanctuary city, meaning that the city is on record as not working cooperatively with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws.  In fact, the city has reached out to immigrant populations to offer city services regardless of one's immigration status.

In 2008, when Tony Bologna and his two sons were murdered by a suspect, Edwin Ramos, who is an undocumented immigrant, Mayor Gavin Newsom unilaterally decided to change the sanctuary city ordinance and required local law enforcement officers to immediately hand over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents suspected juvenile offenders, without due process which would ultimately determine their criminal guilt or innocence.

On October 20th, there was much cheering in the Board of Supervisors meeting, when, by a vote of 8-2, the city supervisors voted to restore due process for immigrant youth, thanks to legislation drafted by Supervisor David Campos.  In response, Mayor Newsom instructed city law enforcement officers to ignore the supervisors vote, and continue to hand youth directly over to ICE, prior to trial and proof of innocence or guilt.

I am in support of the restoration of due process for immigrant youth.

The great city of San Francisco has long been a city that knows how. Knows how to value its residents, knows how to honor diversity, knows how to advance justice, knows how to promote innovative thinking, and has historically known how to implement policies that bring all these elements together. Whether being a sanctuary city, providing health care for all, or extending domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian couples, this city has been willing to step up to the challenges of our day and find inspired ways to protect the vulnerable and ensure equality and justice for all.

Mayor Newsom's current policy related to immigrant youth does none of this. It has resulted in increased tensions between law enforcement and immigrant communities, it has torn apart families, it has wrongly detained innocent youth, and it has isolated young people from their families and communities of support and placed them in unfamiliar and unsafe situations.

This policy fails to live out our highest values as a city.

This City has always welcomed the stranger and embraced the outcast. San Francisco has provided a home to those who have no home, to those who have been cast from their homes, and to those who have to flee from their homes. Whether sexual orientation, gender identity, faith background, race, class, ethnicity, or country of origin, what has made San Francisco the great city it is has been the result of this ability to extend a home, a place of safety and belonging, to those who are often marginalized or oppressed.

Restoring due process to immigrant youth who are picked up by the police is consistent with this city’s historic tradition of ensuring that the marginalized and oppressed are not further marginalized by unjust policies.

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