Restoring the sanctuary

Newsom leaks legal document to counter strong support for pro-immigrant legislation

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The week started off in celebratory mood for members of the local immigrant rights community who attended an Aug. 18 rally outside City Hall to support legislation by Sup. David Campos that would extend due process rights to immigrant youth. And it ended, as this issue has a way of triggering, in controversy and division.

"Si se puede," chanted the crowd, hoping that "yes, we can" reform city policies on deporting undocumented young people accused of crimes before their trials. Dozens of immigrant and civil rights leaders representing 70 community groups made powerful speeches, buoyed by the knowledge that seven other supervisors — John Avalos, Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Eric Mar, Sophie Maxwell, Ross Mirkarimi, and Board President David Chiu — support the proposal, giving Campos the eight votes needed to override a mayoral veto of his proposed legislation.

Campos, an attorney who came to the United States as an undocumented teenager from Guatemala, told the crowd that he hopes to ensure that undocumented juveniles can only be referred to federal authorities for deportation after a court finds that they have committed a felony.

The Campos proposal, which was introduced during a week-long effort to revive immigration reform efforts at the federal level, seeks to amend a policy shift that the Mayor's Office rammed through last summer after somebody leaked confidential juvenile criminal records to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Those leaks revealed that city officials had been harboring adolescent crack dealers instead of referring them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. Within days, Mayor Gavin Newsom — who had just announced his gubernatorial bid — ordered a change in policy.

In the year since that shift took place, city officials have reported an estimated 180 to 190 youths to ICE. But immigrant rights advocates say Newsom has refused to meet with more than 70 local community organizations to hear their concerns about how the change in policy violates due process rights.

"I hope Newsom will look at this proposal and see it for what it is: a balanced and measured process grounded in the values of San Francisco," Campos told his supporters, noting that his proposal does not seek to revert to the city's original policy, under which no youths were referred to ICE, even when there was misconduct.

Instead, Campos' proposal seeks to reform the policy that Newsom ordered and the city's Juvenile Probation Department implemented last July without public debate. As Avalos observed at the Aug. 18 rally, "The policy that was introduced last year only produced a semblance of public safety. It caved in to the politics of intolerance. It was not in line with the city of St. Francis. A veto-proof majority has made sure this legislation passes. Young people deserve better."

But the next day, the mood in the immigrant community soured as they learned that the Mayor's Office had leaked to the Chronicle a confidential memo from the City Attorney's Office about the legal vulnerabilities of Campos' proposed legislation. The paper ran a long, high-profile story on the memo along with critical quotes from Newsom, Police Chief George Gascón, and U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello.

As of press time, the Guardian had not been furnished a copy of the leaked memo. But it reportedly warns that passage of Campos' legislation could jeopardize the city's defense against the Bologna family, who claim that the city's policy allegedly allowed Edwin Ramos, now 22, to kill Tony Bologna and his two sons last year.