Supes May Oppose U.S. Immigration Program

It wasn’t the first time her partner hit her, but in October 2010 Norma finally picked up the phone and dialed 911. Instead of getting the help she longed for, the undocumented San Francisco resident was taken into custody and detained under the federal government’s Secure Communities Program.

“I don’t know if you have family or you have children or if you ever stopped to think about what it would be like if you weren’t able to go home to your children,” Norma told members of the Board of Supervisors at the Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday.

Norma, who spoke in Spanish, was one of more than 30 San Francisco residents who came out to speak on behalf of a resolution initiated by District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar. It would discourage the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and Juvenile Probation Department from using local funds to respond to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers.

The Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the resolution, which will be heard by the full Board of Supervisors for a final decision Tuesday, Dec. 13. Five supervisors already signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution, but advocates pointed out that it has very little muscle.

Under the 2008 Secure Communities Program, federal immigration officials rely on cities to uphold their requests to fingerprint and then detain immigrants who are undocumented. The program’s stated goal is to identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

But cities have become frustrated with the program because the deportations have gone far beyond serious criminals. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s website shows that of 104,464 illegal immigrants deported under Secure Communities since its inception in 2008, 73 percent have been arrested on misdemeanors or lesser crimes or not been convicted of a crime at all.

“Programs like S-Comm make neighborhoods less safe because they keep people from interacting with the police,” said District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who is co-sponsoring the resolution. “If you live in the Mission and you have been victim of a crime and you have an undocumented witness you want them to come forward and tell police what they saw.”

Yet, whether the resolution would have much of an impact remains questionable. As a resolution, the policy is not legally binding.

But, if passed, the resolution will be met with support from the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Michael Hennessey has already come out strongly against Secure Communities, as has District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who was recently elected to replace Hennessey as sheriff. The Juvenile Probation Department has not given a stance on Secure Communities in the past.

“I do hope that at some point in the future this becomes an ordinance,” said Renee Saucedo of La Raza Centro Legal at the meeting. “We want to see a policy that is binding once it becomes politically feasible.”

The Immigrants Rights Defense Committee approached Supervisor Mar with the idea for the resolution, understanding that a resolution, rather than an ordinance, would be easier to pass, said Lorena Melgarejo, Director of Civic Engagement at CARECEN in the Mission District.

“This is a step in the right direction, something we can win to start building a foundation,” said Melgarejo, adding that the committee felt losing the battle for an ordinance would have been a step backward for immigrant rights.

San Francisco has no obligation to comply with Secure Communities. As the Code of Federal Regulations explains, ICE detainers are only requests from the federal government, not legal requirements.

San Francisco has voluntarily complied with Secure Communities in the past, but as of June the Sheriff’s Department, at least, began to release low-level undocumented criminals from jail even if federal officials requested they be detained.
However, the Juvenile Probation Department has been more conservative on immigrant rights.

“It would make sense for JPD to be more protective of juveniles, but unfortunately they have not been,” said Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus, a major proponent of the resolution.

In 2009 the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance led by Supervisor Campos calling on law enforcement to only turn over undocumented juveniles to ICE after a judge had upheld a felony charge. It was never fully implemented and under the instruction of Mayor Ed Lee, juvenile probation still reports unaccompanied minors to ICE upon arrest.

While the current resolution does not address Campos’s ordinance, it does say that San Francisco shouldn’t be using city money or staff to do the job of immigration officials.

Campos said he sees the two issues as related and is unhappy that his 2009 ordinance has yet to be fully implemented. But, he also stressed that Secure Communities, which includes adults and juveniles, is a separate issue that needs to be addressed with its own resolution.

Given the refusal of Mayor Ed Lee and his predecessor to implement Campos’s 2009 ordinance, which would have instructed law enforcement to only turn over undocumented juveniles to ICE after a felony charge had been upheld, the District 9 supervisor said its particularly important that the Board offer a clear stance on Secure Communities. Doing so, he said, would help to limit the possibility of future attempts to undermine the city’s opposition to the federal program.

Santa Clara and other counties have implemented similar measures.

“This resolution is consistent with San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city,” Campos said. “This resolution will put the Board on record saying we should not comply with ICE holds unless there is actually reimbursement to the city.”(
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