Vicious circle

Violence in the Mission is increasing — but immigrants are less likely to want to talk to the police

The Mission District has been swarming with police officers lately. They were present and visible in large numbers in recent weeks in an effort to stem a recent tide of mostly drug- and gang-related killings in the heavily immigrant neighborhood.

"When 14, 15, and 13-year olds are running around with guns, we have a serious problem," San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong said at a recent press conference as she urged the community to call 911, or the police department's anonymous hotline, to report suspected shooters.

"All these people come from families, and these family members may hear or know something, or see a change in behavior," Fong said.

But community advocates warn that Fong's boss has made it less likely that immigrants will talk to the police. Since Mayor Gavin Newsom's recent decision to notify immigration authorities the moment the city books undocumented juveniles accused of committing felonies, fear that the Sanctuary City laws are eroding may be driving the very sources Fong needs deeper into the shadows.

Shannan Wilber, executive director of Legal Services for Children, told us that the new policy is already having an impact.

"It's a warning sign that no one is safe, that people can't go to Juvenile Hall and pick up their kids, because they'll be swept up by ICE, too," Wilber told us. "People are saying, 'We don't feel safe reporting a crime we witnessed or were a victim of.'<0x2009>"

Mission Captain Stephen Tacchini told the Guardian last week that he's not hearing that the community is clamping up because of the mayor's newfound willingness to send juveniles to the feds for possible deportation. But he acknowledged that he doesn't know the immigration status of folks who talk to the police at meetings and on the street.

"How many undocumented aliens come forward and assist us?" he asked. "Well, it's possible they use the anonymous tip line."


In an Aug. 8 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Newsom wrote, "the underlying purpose of the sanctuary-city policy is to protect public safety."

First signed into law in 1985, the city's sanctuary ordinance designated San Francisco a safe haven for immigrants seeking asylum from war-torn El Salvador and Guatemala. The city extended the policy to all immigrants in 1989, saying it would not use resources or funds to assist federal immigration law enforcement, except when required by federal law.

Over the years, the city's sanctuary legislation was amended to allow law enforcement to report felony arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants. City officials, however, came to believe that state juvenile law prevented them from referring undocumented juveniles to the federal authorities.

The city's decision not to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement about undocumented juvenile felons came under the media spotlight this summer when someone leaked to the Chronicle that the city had used tax dollars to fly undocumented Honduran crack dealers home. Some convicts were sent to group homes in San Bernardino County, and the city was left empty-handed and red-faced when a dozen ran away.

When the Chronicle articles hit, Newsom, who had just filed to explore a run for governor, claimed that the city could do nothing — the courts had jurisdiction over undocumented juvenile felons.

But the next day, Newsom did an abrupt about-turn.

"San Francisco will shift course and start turning over juvenile illegal immigrants," Newsom said. "We are moving in a different direction."

But the public was left in the dark about how far this new direction would veer until Sept.