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Immigrants Dont Feel Safe in 'Sanctuary City'

By Elena Shore // Video: Josue Rojas Posted: Apr 17, 2009

Editor’s Note: Once a beacon for immigrants, San Francisco is no longer seen as a safe place to live for some families. Last summer, Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed undocumented youth to be turned over to immigration authorities. And in the last year, stepped up ICE raids have some families on edge. Residents who spoke at a recent city hearing say they are under siege.

San Francisco's history as a sanctuary city for immigrants and pioneer in civil rights is being seriously undermined by recent policy changes by the mayor that are hurting a growing number of families. That was the core message at a hearing jointly held by the city's immigrant rights and human rights commissions at City Hall on April 13 to examine the impacts of federal immigration enforcement on San Francisco communities.

"The city of San Francisco has led the nation," said Jamal Dajani, chair of the Immigrant Rights Commission. The question now, he said, is whether it will continue to be a leader on immigrant rights.

City Supervisor David Campos noted that San Francisco had led the fight for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. "The chair where you’re sitting is where Harvey Milk used to sit," Campos said to one commissioner, referring to the slain city supervisor and gay rights activist. "We have a history of taking a stand. We are proud that we have been and continue to be a city of refuge."

In 1989, San Francisco passed the "City of Refuge" Ordinance, which prohibits city employees from assisting federal agents in making immigration arrests unless required by federal or state law or a warrant. It's been known as a sanctuary city ever since.

But even in this so-called sanctuary city, immigrants say they are living in fear.

A year ago, in what immigrant rights groups saw as a step backward, Mayor Gavin Newsom changed the city's policy toward undocumented youth. In July 2008, he began allowing undocumented minors with criminal records to be turned over to immigration authorities.

Claiming that the sanctuary city policy was not meant to protect criminals, Newsom acted after a widely publicized shooting, in which an undocumented immigrant shot and killed a father and his two sons. The incident set off a debate over the city’s sanctuary law that protects undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Since then, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has stepped up raids on private homes.

"We’ve all read about ICE raids, but they are worse than what you've read," said UC Davis law professor Bill Ong Hing, at the hearing. "The fabric of the community is ruined, in many of these communities, because everyone is afraid."

ICE's fugitive operations program, which conducts raids on private homes in San Francisco, can now more easily go after immigrants with no criminal convictions, according to Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy at UC Berkeley's Warren Institute.

Fugitive operations teams were created in 2003 to remove fugitive aliens who posed a threat to the community. Instead, they have focused on arresting undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions, according to a report released by the Migration Policy Institute. The program’s budget went from an initial $9 million to $218 million last year.

In 2006, the annual quota for each seven-person fugitive operations team increased from 125 arrests to 1,000. And ICE removed the requirement that at least 75 percent of those arrested be criminals. As a result, 73 percent of those captured nationally between 2003 and February 2008 had no criminal conviction.

In this sanctuary city, there have been at least eight raids since May 2, 2008, affecting 54 people, not including their families, according to Francisco Ugarte, staff attorney with the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network. "I say 'at least,'" he said, "because they are conducted in secret."

San Francisco is now filled with stories of families that have been broken by ICE raids, and some were told at the hearing. Ivan Carreño recounted how his father, Refugio, was arrested at his home on Jan. 27 and deported to Mexico. His mother, Guadalupe Carreño Castro, will be deported in five months, leaving Ivan and two other children, all citizens, on their own.

"Please bring my dad back and don’t take my mom because I really love my parents and stuff," Carreño said. "I don’t know what I'm gonna do without my dad."

Ana Ruth Quintanilla says she has fallen into a deep depression since immigration authorities entered her home on Sept. 11, 2008. Quintanilla was one of six people arrested that day; three were deported, and Quintanilla and two others were released with electronic monitoring devices on their ankles. But Quintanilla isn't sure if she is one of the lucky ones.

"Whenever I go to the grocery store," Quintanilla said, "I’m afraid ICE is going to come deport me."

Amos Lim, a community organizer with Out4Immigration who emigrated from Singapore in 1999, was unable to get legal status through his marriage. "I’m an immigrant and this is my husband," he said, noting that he and his husband Mickey are one of 48,000 same-sex couples registered as domestic partners in California. But because the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage, his husband did not have the right to sponsor him for a green card.

Things have gotten worse for immigrants in San Francisco in the last decade, says Supervisor David Chiu, who practiced immigration law 10 years ago. He attributed it to a shift in the national climate.

"It is not popular to protect immigrants," said Campos. But, supervisors noted, San Francisco's history has been one of standing up for the rights of minorities, even when it wasn't popular.


The Immigrant Rights Commission, which advises Mayor Gavin Newsom on issues affecting immigrants, plans to use the hearing to push for changes to enforcement practices. "We want to hear from impacted communities in order to recommend more humane federal policies," said commission chair Dajani, "rather than waste limited resources to create division and a climate of fear.'


Related Articles:

Deportation Rips Family Apart -- Moves Student to Organize

The Knock at the Door: San Francisco’s Sanctuary Status Under Fire

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