Crossing the line - Page 6

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

They can't win on substance," said Trillin, whose organization frequently provides legal guidance and support for immigrant youth.

She noted that the controversy that prompted Newsom's policy change started with family reunification efforts. City officials were trying to reunite undocumented teenagers who were caught selling crack in downtown San Francisco with their families in Honduras when ICE officials intercepted them at George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport in December 2007 and May 2008.

These interceptions led U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello, who opposed San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance when it was introduced in the 1980s, to claim that flying youth back to their families without first referring them to ICE was tantamount to harboring criminals.

After the apprehended city officials claimed they were acting in accordance with San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance, Russoniello convened a federal grand jury to investigate the city's juvenile probation department. That investigation still hangs over JPD, even as Sen. Barbara Boxer mulls recommending candidates to replace Russoniello.

Meanwhile, right-wing activists have been blaming the city's sanctuary policy for the tragic 2008 shootings of three members of the Bologna family, after they discovered that 23-year-old Edwin Ramos, the alleged killer and an MS-13 gang member, was apprehended by San Francisco's juvenile justice system as a teen, but was never referred to the feds.

Facing this firestorm, Newsom caved to public pressure and followed the advice of Kevin Ryan, his Republican criminal justice director and the only prosecutor fired for cause during the 2006 U.S. attorneys firing scandal, by ordering that the city treat juvenile immigrants as adults, referring them to ICE at the moment of arrest on felony charges.

CHILDREN ON ICE

The same day supervisors approved Campos' amendment, outgoing LAPD Chief William Bratton urged his department to keep its focus on fighting crime, not illegal immigration, plunging headfirst into the controversy over the federal 287(g) program.

Created in 1996 and expanded in the wake of 9/11 purportedly to counter terrorism and violent crime, the 287(g) program allows the federal government to enter into agreements giving local police the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. This has led many immigrants to mistrust and refuse to cooperate with local cops.

"My officers can't prevent or solve crimes if victims or witnesses are unwilling to talk to us because of the fear of being deported," Bratton wrote in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece.

"I think what Chief Bratton is saying is different from what we are hearing in San Francisco" Campos said. "Mayor Gavin Newsom seems to be implying that San Francisco's juvenile probation officers have no choice. But really, there is no law requiring them to refer kids to ICE. So it seems that what the mayor is doing is creating a de facto 287(g) program that gives local officers the power of federal agents."

That's why Campos said it's important for Newsom to participate in a public discussion of his intentions. "We need to ask the mayor if what he is saying is that JPD is an arm of ICE. If that's the case, we need to know."

President Obama promised during the campaign that immigration reform would be part of his legislative agenda, but the White House hasn't acted much on the issue. Yet immigration attorney Francisco Ugarte is hopeful that the tide is turning locally, as witnessed by the outpouring of support for Campos' legislation. "Thirty-three percent of San Francisco residents are foreign-born," Ugarte observed. "That's a really high number, a significant part of the constituency."

Russoniello told the Guardian that immigrants are not entitled to the same level of due process as citizens, implying that the U.S. has a two-tier criminal justice system.