The case of MUNI bus driver Charles Washington, whose wife Tracey and her 13-year old son face deportation on Friday after the boy tried to take 46 cents from another kid, helps illustrate why Sup. David Campos spent over a year working with local immigration experts to figure out a way to amend the city's sanctuary policy. Under the Campos amendment, which Mayor Gavin Newsom has refused to implement, kids like Charles Washington's 13-year-old stepson would only be referred to US immigration and Customs Enforcement after a juvenile justice determined that they were actually guilty of a felony.
Unfortunately, the city's juvenile probation department, under Mayor Gavin Newsom's orders, and running scared of rightwing nuts who have unsuccesfully tried to sue the city, has refused to implement Campos amendment. Campos, who spent over a year working with immigration experts to develop a measured and legally defensible amendment, has called a hearing to determine why juvenile probation is refusing to implement his amendment, which a super majority of the Board supported last year,thereby overriding Newsom's mayoral veto.
And now, with the face of the Washingtons all over the local media, city officials are either rushing to clarify their positions, or avoiding reporters altogether, as the Washingtons fight to keep their family intact--and in San Francisco.
Sgt Tomioka of the San Francisco police Department left me a message this morning to clarify that the SFPD doesn't refer immigrant youth to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"That is not a function of the SFPD," Tomioka said in a voice message.
And she's right. That job is left to the city's probation officers. But the city's probation officers are required, under Newsom's policy, to refer kids to ICE if the arresting SFPD officer charges them with a felony. So, in that sense the SFPD is involved in the ICE referral process, albeit indirectly.
As the SFPD's Sgt. Wilfred Williams explained, SFPD officers make the arrests, write up the charges and transport suspected juvenile felons to the Juvenile Justice Center.
And it's at the Juvenile Justice Center that members of the city's Juvenile Probation Department are required, under Newsom's orders, to pick up the phone and refer kids to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when kids they suspect of being undocumented are booked with felony charges.
In the case of Charles Washington's skinny 13-year-old stepson, the kid was arrested by the SFPD on Jan. 25 and charged with felony assault, extortion and robbery. I haven't seen a police report of the incident, yet. But Washington said it was based on what the other kid's family told the police, and that there were no witnesses to the incident. And felony charges are all that's needed, under Newsom's current policy to require a probation officer to refer a kid to ICE.
And once juveniles are in the hands of ICE, a nightmarish Catch 22 kicks in, in which local protections no longer apply, and ICE's deportation orders can trump any legal immigration application, including green card applications.
In the case of the Washingtons, the family was applying for green cards--applications that cost thousands of dollars. And US Citizenship and Immigration Services had agreed to review their case. But then came their son's arrest by the SFPD who charged him with three felonies and transported him to Juvenile Probation, whose officers were required to refer him to ICE. And ICE, according to Washington, then used his son "as bait" to get his wife to show up at their office, where they slapped an electronic monitoring device on her ankle and gave her and her son their deportation marching orders.
Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, and the lawyer helping the Washingtons' negogiate their way through this immigration nightmare, clarified that USCIS isn't refusing to consider their case, because of the stepson's referral.
Instead, the problem is that USCIS won't be able to finish that process before Friday, when the Washingtons are due to be deported.
"Unfortunately, the mother and her child will be deported by ICE well before their greencard application can be processed by USCIS, which can take months," Chan said.
Further compounding the Washingtons' legal problems is the fact that their 13-year-old is supposed to appear before a juvenile justice on Monday (March 8) to review the charges against him.Chan said it's likely that a juvenile justice would review the boy's case and reduce the charges, probably requiring him to do six months informal probation. In other words, the felony charges that led to his referral to ICE likely wouldn't be upheld in court.
Now, under the amendment that Sup. Campos authored and the Board approved last fall, but Newsom is refusing to implement, the boy's probation oficer would not be required to refer him to ICE if the felony charges aren't upheld. In which case, the boy would go free, his parents could continue applying for green cards, and the family could remain intact
But since ICE want to deport Washington's stepson before his March 8 hearing, the boy won't have his day in court. Even worse, he will likely be slapped with a bench warrant by the juvenile justice department--the kind of Catch 22 detail that will play havoc with future attempts to apply for green cards from outside the US.
I asked Lori Haley of US ICE what's the big hurry to deport the Washingtons by Friday.
"They overstayed their visas," was all Haley would say, along with the comment that "We don't confirm when someone is going to be deported."
Asked who was responsible for telling the Washingtons that they needn't rush to apply for green cards, which is what Charles Washington said happened, Haley referred me to UC CIS, whose spokesperson Sharon Rummery said it was impossible to ascertain if a contractor with the US government misinformed the family.
'I can't say that it's true or not, because it was a private conversation between one of the operators who works on our customer service line," Rummery said. "Our operators are highly trained and are backed up by our trained officers," Rummery continued, confirming that the operators are contractors, not US CIS staff.
Rummery offered that folks who are deported to their native country can file for a waiver of deportation and also a waiver of a ban on reentering the country.
"They have to demonstrate that an immediate relative, who has legal status, in this case the husband, will suffer severe hardship," Rummery said. "When they are sent away, then they can apply for a waiver and return with a green card."
But Rummery said she could not provide a reliable time estimate as to how long all this would take, nor did she know how the stepson's felony charges and possible bench warrant would impact the family's chances of getting a green card through this process.
So, I called Sens. Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and President Barack Obama's press office to see if any of them are aware of this case and whether they would consider a private bill. As the Asian Law Caucus' Chan explained to me, earlier today, "A private bill is when a bill is passed to grant immigration relief for an individual. It doesn't change SF's policy or the way the feds are bullying us, but it may help this family.
No one in Boxer, Feinstein, Pelosi or Obama's press offices was aware of this case when I called, but they all said they'd look into it,and the folks in Feinstein's office sounded horrified that a kid could be deported thanks to a schoolyard fight over 46 cents. So, maybe there is hope after all.
To date, Mayor Gavin Newsom's new media spokesperson Tony Winnicker hasn't returned my calls.
But I did read that Winnicker had told the Chronicle that it was "'an unfortunate situation for the family, and we're sympathetic to it."
"But [Winnicker] said the mayor is actually protecting 'hard-working, law-abiding residents of this city, including undocumented residents' by reporting youths after felony arrests," the Chronicle continued.
Somehow, I don't think that Charles Washington, a hard-working law-abiding resident of San Francisco, would agree that anybody is protecting him by deporting his wife and her two kids. Especially since the 13-year old hasn't even had his day in court to determine if he is even guilty as charged.
And while the Chron wrote that Washington "hopes to visit them in Australia," the Chron's reporter must have left the press conference by the time Washington explained how often he is likely to get to visit Australia. As Washington noted, if you are deported, you typically have to wait 3-10 years to visit the US again.
"So, if it's a 10-year ban, I'll get to visit them 3 times, and if it's a 3-year ban, I'll get to visit them once," Washington, who drives a MUNI bus, said.
"I refer to them as my sons, because I'm still going to be their dad," continued Washington, who is praying for a miracle.
In the meantime, Sup. David Campos is holding a March 4 hearing before the Board's rules committee to explore why the City's Juvenile Probation Department has refused to implement Campos' amendment to Newsom's sanctuary policy. Up unitl now, Newsom's office has claimed that taking this extra precaution would violate the US Constitution. I wonder how many families like the Washingtons are going to have to be destroyed before someone in the Mayor's Office decides that it's time to revaluate their position and prevent local families from get ripped apart, simply because their kids, green cards or not, insist on acting like kids.