Crossing the line - Page 2

How Mayor Newsom's policies are tearing apart families, imprisoning and imperiling children, and creating a climate of fear in immigrant communities
Immigration rally at City Hall
Photo by Lars Howlett

But in this case, Estella told us, a school official reported her daughters' fight to a social worker, who brought a police officer to Estella's house for questioning.

As a result, Estella's daughter was taken to Juvenile Hall. A year ago, she would have had access to a lawyer, who would have helped sort things out. If the fight had been serious or violent, she might have been placed on supervised probation.

But thanks to Newsom's new policy, probation officers referred her to ICE and its agents swooped in, seized her, and shipped her to Miami.

Ultimately, a juvenile judge in San Francisco recommended Estella's daughter be put on probation — but by that time, Maria was already in Florida, in a detention center run by a private company under contract to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Detainees have no right to a public defender or free legal services. It's often hard for their families to find out exactly where they are, so detainees wait in detention for immigration officials to decide what to do next.

Maria was fortunate that ORR recommended temporary reunification. Immigrant advocates say that Estella's daughter is now back in the Bay Area with her family, but is still under deportation proceedings.

They note that one way parents can get their kids back from ICE is by giving up information — including the names, fingerprints, and addresses of other family members — to federal immigration authorities. But parents are not always willing to do that, especially if it could lead to other family members, including children, being deported.

As of press time, a super-majority on the Board of Supervisors is planning to override Newsom's veto of Campos' legislation at its Nov. 10 meeting. But the mayor has said he intends to ignore the Campos legislation — a posture that is not only legally questionable, but leaves immigrant parents facing the ongoing nightmare that their teens could get deported to a country they never knew for a crime they didn't commit.

Immigrant advocates cite the case of a 14-year-old boy who is under ICE removal proceedings after he brought a BB-gun to school, and a Mexican youth who was deported, even though the District Attorney's Office dismissed the robbery charges against him.

Patti Lee, managing attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office Juvenile Unit, described how the feds recently snatched a kid outside juvenile court, even though the District Attorney's Office had dismissed his case.

"The kid was coming into court with his mother and the ICE agent had a photo of him, and grabbed him outside the building," Lee said. "His mom was hysterical and it was traumatic for our staff."

These are not isolated cases. ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice told us that 150 juveniles from San Francisco have been referred to ICE, and 114 have been taken into federal custody and transferred to detention facilities since Newsom ordered his policy change in 2008.

Immigration advocates say some of the kids have been sent to Yolo County, while others have been shipped to Oregon, Washington, Indiana, and Florida, making visits from family members, who may themselves be undocumented, extremely difficult.

Eric Quezada, an immigrant advocate and the executive director of Dolores Street Community Services, told us that while kids may try crossing the border to rejoin their families and friends, "lacking the serious dollars to come back, many are deported into extreme poverty or to be part of a gang."

Lee notes that federal immigration authorities have a duty to reunite children with their families. "But if the family is undocumented, its members are afraid to step forward, afraid to step into the Youth Guidance Center," Lee said. "So there are some children sent back to their alleged country of origin, without a family and resources.