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Minutemen Launch National Campaign in San Francisco

New America Media, News Report//Video, Words: Amanda Martinez//Video: Min Lee and Amanda Martinez Posted: Jul 31, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO In the first stop of the Minuteman Project's national campaign to protest sanctuary cities, about 20 Minutemen -- and 300 counter-protesters -- converged on City Hall Wednesday.

Jim Gilchrist, founder and president of The Minuteman Project, said the group will take time away from monitoring the border to call attention to the more than 100 U.S. cities known for protecting undocumented immigrants.

San Francisco, first declared a sanctuary city in 1989 by the board of supervisors, shields city employees from participating in immigration enforcement by prohibiting city workers, including police officers, from asking individuals for information about citizenship status.

Video: Minute Men and protesters clash at City Hall

Current district Supervisor Tom Ammiano says the sanctuary ordinance aims to improve public safety by supporting the immigrant community in reporting crimes and engaging in civic life. He says the policy allows everyone in the city to feel safe calling the police or fire department and taking their children to school or to the hospital.

Some 300 protesters turned out at the rally to defend the citys sanctuary policies. One protester, Aurora Castellanos, an immigrant from Mexico who has been living in San Francisco for 10 years, says she and her community fully understand what it means to live in a sanctuary city. It means that the government is protecting us so that we can feel safe to live here, she explained. She believes that if the ordinance is retracted undocumented people will be afraid to walk down the street.

Owen Jones, a member of the Golden Gate Minutemen who was at the rally, believes illegal immigration has affected him personally. Jones, a contractor, says he made $40 an hour in 1988 and now makes only $36 an hour. His quality of life, he says, has been stolen by immigrants.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has made efforts to show his support for San Francisco as a sanctuary city. In April he put $83,000 dollars in funds toward an outreach campaign promising immigrants safe access to public services and informing residents about what a sanctuary city is.

One Salvadoran immigrant who benefited from the policy, Edwin Ramos, has been charged with three counts of murder for the June 22 shootings of 48-year-old Tony Bologna and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16. Ramos, now 21, was arrested as a 17-year-old for an assault and an attempted robbery, but city officials did not turn him over to federal immigration authorities.

As a sanctuary city, San Francisco upheld a practice of protecting immigrant minors who commit crimes from deportation by escorting them to their home countries or sending them to group homes.

But the Ramos case, coupled with the escape of eight undocumented youth who were convicted of drug charges in San Francisco from a group home in San Bernardino, has caused city officials to reverse the policy of protecting immigrant youth.

In a July 2 interview with news media, Mayor Newsom announced that the city would now turn over immigrant juveniles who are convicted of felonies to federal authorities.

"We've always said that you'll be deported if you commit felonies. That's been the case in the adult system. There's been this loophole in the juvenile system. That loophole has been closed," said Newsom.

The shift has not appeased the Minuteman Project. Gilchrist called for the resignation of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, saying that San Franciscos sanctuary city practices set the stage for the Bologna murders.

Representatives from the Golden Gate Minutemen held signs calling the mayor, along with District Attorney Kamala Harris and William Siffermann of the city's Juvenile Probation Department, "accessories to murder" and traitors to the United States.

Renee Saucedo, director of a San Francisco day laborers program, believes that the Minutemen are using the Bologna tragedy to create hysteria and fear around sanctuary laws. It has been proven that cities with sanctuary laws have safer communities, she says, because immigrant communities feel safer in accessing local law enforcement.

For Supervisor Ammiano, the rally showed that the Minuteman campaign does not constitute a threat to the policies of sanctuary cities. When their national call to action produces a dozen people, and we have hundreds of people in the streets defending our city's policy, he says, I think it's an indication that they will be met with strong opposition in any sanctuary city they go to.

The Minuteman Project plans to continue its campaign in cities across Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Florida.

Photo: Suzanne Manneh / New America Media

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Black and Brown Unite to Stop Minutemen

Blacks and the Minutemen: Two Views

Mad Max in Borderland -- Overnight With the Minutemen

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