By Fleur Bailey and Alex Emslie
Attempts to modify San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance, which would allow for greater protection from deportation of undocumented youth accused of criminal conduct, has stalled due to a conflict between the Board of Supervisors and the mayor’s office.
Supervisor David Campos is arguing that probation officers should only contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a youth has been convicted of a felony and not at the time of booking.
Campos introduced an amendment to the ordinance on Aug. 18, 2009 and called for a public hearing at City Hall on March 4.
“I feel disappointed that we are in this position,” Campos said. “How is it that after a law was passed, we are here having to engage in a hearing? The immigration department gets it, that a procedure should be allowed. Even Washington gets it. We’re here today because the mayor’s office does not get the point.”
The Board of Supervisors passed the amendments to the ordinance for confidentiality of juveniles immigration status on Nov. 10, 2009, but it was vetoed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and has yet to be implemented.
William Siffermann, chief probation officer at the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, said they are only able to implement amendments to the ordinance if it complies with state and federal law, and had been advised by the City Attorney’s office that there may be legal implications in doing so.
“The department cannot modify the present practices of the policy,” Siffermann said. “We believe that modification would be breaking federal law.”
The JPD has a policy that allows its officers to notify ICE when they process someone and have reason to believe that person is not a U.S citizen, as long as that belief is not based solely on the person’s appearance or inability to speak English.
Siffermann said that officers may also report the presence of other possible undocumented youths in the area at the time of an arrest.
Campos then asked how a person would know if someone is undocumented, just from looking at them.
“Do you argue that people with Spanish surnames might be undocumented?” Campos said. “Do you see how that could lead to racial profiling?”
Siffermann said that while they provide equal treatment to all juveniles, he acknowledged that reporting immigrant youth at the time of booking could lead to racial profiling, but that this could be avoided with close supervision.
Speakers at the hearing included Charles Washington, whose 13-year-old stepson was reported to ICE after a minor bullying incident. The boy took 46 cents from another boy and under Newsom’s policy was reported to ICE immediately after his arrest. He was charged with robbery, assault and extortion, but ICE halted his juvenile court proceedings.
Washington’s wife and her two sons, 13 and five, were then to be deported back to Australia, despite the families eligibility for Lawful Permanent Resident Status. The Washington family shared their story with the press on March 1, just days before the hearing.
“I don’t think it’s fair for anyone, whether they’re American or not, to be reported for any reason just based upon the charges of something and not based upon conviction,” Washington said. “The mayor’s policy has brought unnecessary stress and hardship to our family.”
Federal authorities granted the family a 60-day extension to allow for their pending green card application on March 3. The 13-year-old boy’s juvenile case is still pending.
Gabriel Calvillo, president of the Juvenile Probation Officers Association said his officers are caught in the middle.
“No one wants to see families torn apart,” he said. “But you cannot blame the officers. If a young person is released and then later commits a crime, that officer is in hot water.”
One probation officer who spoke at the hearing said they have received training to ensure they conduct the process legally. She said they do not ask many questions, but they have to determine where the parents of the youth are and ask for the social security number to verify the child’s right for social services.
Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, who has been representing the Washington family said she thinks the mayor’s policy exacerbates and compounds the existing policies of a broken immigration system.
“Until Mayor Newsom restores due process to all youth in San Francisco, many more hard-working families like the Washingtons will be torn apart,” she said.