Campos urges Lee to implement entire due process law


Text by Sarah Phelan. Photographs by Luke Thomas

After the Guardian broke the news that Mayor Ed Lee was planning to only partially implement Sup. David Campos’ due process legislation, we headed to City Hall to witness Lee announce his partial shift during question time. And afterwards, Lee told reporters that he spent the months since he was appointed reviewing the policy and talking with leaders in the city’s juvenile justice departments.

“I looked at the difference between youth with family here and youth who did not,” Lee said, noting that his decision to let youth that have family here to have their day in court is in keeping with his policy of focusing on family reunification and getting families more involved.

Lee stressed that youth with family here will still need to be enrolled in school and not be repeat offenders in order to have their day in court.

“It will be decided upon on a case by case basis,” he said.

Lee said he has had conversations with the federal government and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the policy shift. “We have discussed this,” Lee said. “And we did get a very strong feeling that the federal government is a bit confused.”

Asked how far he is willing to go to defend this latest policy shift, Lee said, “I’ll take that up as it comes. President Obama is struggling with immigration right now.”

Reminded that his predecessor Mayor Gavin Newsom refused to implement any aspect of Campos’ due process legislation, even though a super-majority of the Board passed the ordinance in 2009, Lee said, “I don’t compare myself with the former mayor.”

Asked what percentage of immigrant youth that end up getting booked are “unaccompanied,” Lee said he did not have those statistics. “Check with Siffermann,” he said, referring to the head of the city’s Juvenile Probation Department.”

Lee’s announcement was met with mixed reviews among immigrant advocates.

Civil rights groups applauded Lee’s decision to immediately begin implementation of Campos’ legislation, which was passed in November 2009, restores due process for immigrant youth in the city’s juvenile justice system and ensures that innocent youth are not torn from their families for deportation.  But they also expressed disappointment that Lee will only be implementing the policy for youth who have immediate family here, and not for unaccompanied youth.  And they all urge him to fully implement what they described as Campos’ “duly-enacting, common-sense law so that all innocent youth receive protections.”

They noted that implementation of Campos’ broadly-supported law, which has been endorsed by over 70 organizations, had been stalled until today due to former Mayor Newsom’s refusal to enact the law. 

Under Newsom’s direction, Juvenile Probation reported over 160 youth to ICE at the point of arrest, prior to the youth receiving due process, based only on a juvenile probation officer’s “reasonable suspicion” that a youth is undocumented. 

Civil rights advocates note that Newsom’s problematic policy was responsible for tearing innocent youth from their families and spreading fear among immigrant residents around coming forward to cooperate with police, either as witnesses or victims of crime.  

And they observe that the policy that Juvenile Probation Department has been enforcing since the summer of 2008, and which involved reporting youth for life-altering deportation at arrest, went well above and beyond any obligations under federal law. 

They noted that, as a cadre of legal scholars, including University of San Francisco Law Professor Bill Ong Hing, have repeatedly made clear, there is no requirement imposed on city officials under federal law to ask about immigration status or to report individuals suspected of being undocumented.”

Ana Perez, executive director of Central American Resource Center, agreed.“While we appreciate Mayor Lee taking action to finally begin implementation, we are concerned that he is only implementing the policy for accompanied youth and not for youth who may be unaccompanied because they are trafficked to this country, are orphans, or are escaping persecution.”

“I’m certain it’s not for all youth,” Pérez continued. “So, it’s a small win. But what about the kids who are victims of human trafficking? The fact is we spent so much time developing a policy that was approved by a majority of the Board. So, this is bitter sweet.”

Asked what became of the criminal grand jury investigation that then US Attorney Joe Russoniello initiated in 2008, when Mayor Gavin Newsom was running for governor, and news first broke that the city was accompanying youth who weren’t here with family back to their home country, Pérez suppressed a snort. “It seems that was a bunch of empty threats to try and get the city to move to a more conservative position,” she said. “It’s been a whole new day with Obama.”

Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus said that Juvenile Probation’s prior policy of reporting innocent youth exacerbated the impact of a broken federal immigration system on local immigrant families. “We appreciate that Mayor Lee has taken this long awaited step forward because he values family unity and due process for youth,” Chan said. “However, we ask that the Mayor not exclude unaccompanied youth from receiving due process protections."

Patricia Lee, managing attorney in the Juvenile Unit at the Public Defender’s Office also supported the demand for complete implementation of Campos’ legislation. “If you want the immigrant community to feel safe enough to cooperate with police and probation, then those agencies should not be viewed as representatives of immigration,” she said. “My clients and their families are scared of probation, they are scared of police. Selective implementation of the due process policy for only accompanied youth and not to unaccompanied youth does not solve this problem.” 

And Charles Washington, the Muni bus driver and longtime San Francisco resident, whose wife and 14 year old son were almost separated from him as a result of the prior Juvenile Probation policy, expressed concern that the policy would only be implemented for some youth. “I’m glad to see Mayor Lee is doing the right thing by implementing the due process policy,” he said. “However, he should not leave any youth, especially those who are most vulnerable, behind.”

Sup. Campos applauded the Mayor for implementing the policy while expressing disappointment that it is only partial implementation. As Campos’ stated during the Board meeting, but after Lee had already left, “This body enacted that law and that law needs to be respected.  It is not up to the executive branch to second guess the legislative branch.” 

Sup. Eric Mar added that he supports full implementation for all youth.

 And Sup. Jane Kim, who asked the Mayor during the Board’s Question Time about his plans for implementation, stated, “My hope is that he will commit to full implementation of this policy.”

But in the end, the burden fell on Campos to explain why partial due process is unjust. “This is a good first step, but it doesn’t go far enough,” Campos explained. “As I understand it, the decision Mayor Lee has taken is, that if you are a minor, and are accused of a felony, you will be given due process if you have family here. But if you are charged with a felony, but don’t have family here, then you will not be given due process. Let me begin by thanking Mayor Lee for at least taking one step in the right direction. That said, we still will not have full compliance with a law that was duly enacted by this body. Full compliance means giving every child that interacts with the juvenile justice system due process. So, {Mayor Lee’s first step] is simply not sufficient.”

Campos noted that when mayors are sworn in, they agree to uphold laws that the Board enacts. “So, the law needs to be respected,” Campos said. “It’s not up to the executive branch to second guess the legislative body. That second guessing can only be done by the courts. Therefore, we, once again, ask the mayor of San Francisco to comply with full implementation.”

Noting that a bedrock of the U.S.’ justice system is the principle that we are innocent until proven guilty, Campos said that if the mayor does not fully implement the law, as approved by the Board, “There’s a very real possibility that children that we are reporting [to ICE for possible deportation] are not guilty of what they have been accused of. So, once again, I ask the mayor to reconsider his opinion.”

Campos also noted that there are already procedures in place, within the existing juvenile justice system, to ensure that “we do not have individuals released who should not be.”

After the meeting, Campos noted that the format for the Board’s question time with the mayor currently leaves something to be desired: an opportunity for the Board to reply.

"It would be better if it would allow for some exchange, though obviously, we don’t want it to be a ‘gotcha’ game. But at this moment, it’s too rigid.”

 Asked who drafted the current Question Time format, Campos replied, “Board President David Chiu.”

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