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S.F. Mayor Defends Immigration Position in El Mensajero Newspaper

El Mensajero, News Report, Mara Antonieta Meja, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Oct 22, 2008

Editor's Note: Recent actions by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom have caught the attention of Spanish-language newspaper El Mensajero, which published an editorial in September arguing that the mayor was alienating immigrants and Latinos in the city. Among his controversial decisions was Newsom's revision of San Francisco's sanctuary city law to allow the city to turn over undocumented minors convicted of crimes to federal immigration authorities. He also postponed the city's plan to grant IDs to residents regardless of their immigration status. After the editorial was published, the mayor's office wrote a letter of response in English to El Mensajero, and resent a Spanish letter upon request to be printed in the newspaper. Last week, Mayor Gavin Newsom sat down with El Mensajero editor Mara Meja to explain his actions.

SAN FRANCISCO "I want to do it right," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told El Mensajero when asked why he decided to delay granting municipal IDs to city residents, regardless of their immigration status.

In an interview held the day after a San Francisco Supreme Court judge found that the ID cards did not violate federal or state laws, Newsom said the decision didnt surprise him. He said he knew they would win the case against the lawsuit filed by The Immigration Reform Law Institute that sought to prevent the cards from being issued.
NewsomSan Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom
Photo: Jos Luis Aguirre/El Mensajero

Newsom agreed that Judge Peter Buschs decision could help accelerate the process. He said he expects to be ready to begin issuing the IDs "within a few months."

"The reason I want to do it right is because I want to do it right," the mayor said in a repetitive tone as he started to explain why he delayed the municipal IDs, which would have begun to be issued in August.

"The reason I don't want just to throw something out is that I think it puts the entire (municipal ID) program at peril. If we make a mistake, we will end this program forever and my great fear is that we do that. I actually believe in the program enough that I want to do it the right way," the mayor said.

According to the local leader, who is known for supporting controversial measures like same-sex marriage, the ID program will draw national attention and provoke criticism throughout the country.

"We'll be the largest city in the United States of America to do this. All the eyes of this country will be on us, looking for a mistake and they will attack that and they put the program at peril." 

In the interview held Oct. 15 in the mayors office, Newsom said he prefers to take extra time between 60 and 90 days before issuing the IDs, despite the criticism he may receive. 

The purpose of this, he said, is to make sure the cards cant be forged or improperly used.

Pro-immigrant groups in the Bay Area like the Latin American Alliance for Immigrant Rights, which supports the measure, sent a letter to the mayor at the end of September voicing their concerns over his decision to delay the program. According to the Alliance, the municipal IDs would allow for the social integration of immigrants, transgender people and the elderly, among others.

 The group also expressed in the letter that the delay of the program affects not only the city of San Francisco but also the groups and authorities that have worked hard on the project.

Without mentioning his name, Mayor Newsom seemed to be sending a message to San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the main backer of the measure, who is hoping to get a seat in the State Assembly in the November elections.

Im not going to do it (issue municipal IDs) because of an internal deadline, because someone is leaving to Sacramento and wants it done before he leaves to Sacramento , Newsom told El Mensajero.

When asked if he was referring to Tom Ammiano, he said, I'm just saying that people that have created this expectation that it must be done before a certain deadline, I question: Why that deadline? Why not do it right? I think doing it right is more important than political expediency."

During the interview, Newsom was also questioned about the recent revision to the Sanctuary City policy that has been in effect in San Francisco since 1989. The revision originated after an incident allegedly involving Edwin Ramos, an undocumented immigrant accused of committing a triple homicide.

Newsom was asked if he thought it was fair for a single case to delay the municipal ID program.

We are not delaying any program over one case, Newsom responded. Mr. Ramos' case precipitated in a review of the sanctuary policy, not anyones program. 

The ordinance that made San Francisco a sanctuary city, he said, was never conceived to harbor people that shoot other people, stab other people, rape other people or rob other people, and find refuge in our communities. I would never support a policy that allows people to break the law by hurting and harming other people."

Newsom, who said mistakes were made in the implementation of the sanctuary policy especially in the treatment of undocumented minors who have committed serious crimes said the revision to the sanctuary policy will only focus on that and will not change the essence of the ordinance.

The sanctuary policy remains absolutely intact; the principals remain absolutely sound. We do not and will not coordinate any immigration raids. We condemn them. We do not believe that local law enforcement should be involved in federal immigration enforcement, he said.

When asked about the recent raids in San Francisco, he answered ironically, We cant come in and lock the doors.

We are not The United States of San Francisco, Newsom said. Im not the federal authorities, Im not the state authorities. Federal government preempts local law enforcement.

Related Articles:

Editorial: San Francisco Mayor Lost

S.F. Mayor Responds to Spanish Newspaper Editorial

The Knock at the Door: San Franciscos Sanctuary Status Under Fire

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