Public safety adrift - Page 2

At this pivotal moment for law enforcement, will Newsom and his top deputies continue to let politics guide policy?
Illustration by Jason Crosby

But it wasn't until two decades later that Russoniello succeeded in forcing Newsom to adopt a new policy direction, a move that means local police and probation officials must notify federal authorities at the time of booking adults and juveniles whom they suspect of committing felonies

Newsom's turnabout left the immigrant community wondering if political ambition had blinded the mayor to their constitutional right to due process since his decision came on the heels of his announcement that he was running for governor. Juvenile and immigrant advocates argue that all youth have the right to defend themselves, yet they say innocent kids can now be deported without due process to countries where they don't speak the native language and no longer have family members, making them likely to undertake potentially fatal border crossings in an effort to return to San Francisco.

Abigail Trillin of Legal Services for Children, cites the case of a 14-year-old who is in deportation proceedings after being arrested for bringing a BB gun to school. "He says he was going to play with it in the park afterwards, cops and robbers," Trillin says. "His deportation proceedings were triggered not because he was found guilty of a felony, but because he was charged with one when he was booked. He spent Christmas in a federal detention facility in Washington state. Now he's back in San Francisco, but only temporarily. This boy's family has other kids, they are part of our community. His father is a big, strong man, but every time he comes into our office to talk, he is in tears."

Another client almost got referred to U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) even though he was a victim of child abuse. And a recent referral involved a kid who has been here since he was nine months old. "If the mayor genuinely wants to reach out to the immigrant community, he needs to understand how this community has perceived what has happened," Trillin said. "Namely, having a policy that allows innocent youth to be turned over to ICE."

Social workers point out that deporting juveniles for selling crack, rather than diverting them into rehabilitation programs, does nothing to guarantee that they won't return to sell drugs on the streets. And making the immigrant community afraid to speak to law enforcement and social workers allows gangs and bullies to act with impunity.

"This is bad policy," Trillin stated. "Forget about the rights issues. You are creating a sub class. These youths are getting deported, but they are coming back. And when they do, they don't live with their families or ask for services. They are going far underground. They can't show up at their family's home, their schools or services, or in hospitals. So the gang becomes their family, and they probably owe the gang money."

Noting that someone who is deported may have children or siblings or parents who depend on them for support, Sup. John Avalos said, "There need to be standards. The city has the capability and knows how to work this out. I think the new policy direction was a choice that was made to try and minimize impacts to the mayor's career."

But Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office, told the Guardian that the Sanctuary City ordinance never did assure anyone due process. "The language actually said that protection did not apply if an individual was arrested for felony crimes," Dorsey said. "People have lost sight of the fact that the policy was adopted because of a law enforcement rationale, namely so victims of crime and those who knew what was going on at the street level wouldn't be afraid to talk to police."

Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus, along with the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a coalition of more than 30 community groups, has sought — so far in vain — to get the city to revisit the amended policy.