San Francisco Changes Immigration Reporting Policy

Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports on the city's vote to change its policy toward undocumented juvenile immigrants. For almost twenty years San Francisco has declared itself a "sanctuary city", meaning that it will not use city funds to help enforce immigration law by reporting undocumented immigrants. But "sanctuary" does not apply to people arrested and accused of felonies, and the city refers them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Until last summer, the city did not apply this practice to juveniles accused of felonies, and refused to refer juveniles in custody to ICE.

Last summer, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom implemented a new policy requiring the police to contact ICE whenever they arrest a juvenile on felony charges who they suspect is in the United States illegally. Since the policy took effect last summer, more than 100 undocumented juveniles have been referred to federal immigration authorities.

Mayor Newsom implemented this policy after several incidents highlighted the problems with not referring juveniles. The most horrific was the 2008 triple homicide committed by a suspected gang member and an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, who had been picked up as a juvenile by the San Francisco police but not referred to immigration authorities. The San Francisco Chronicle also uncovered incidents of sending young Honduran crack dealers to a group home in Los Angeles, from which they just walked away one day, as well as incidents of the city using taxpayer money to fly accused juveniles back to their home countries instead of referring them to ICE.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to overturn Mayor Newsom's policy. Instead of referring juveniles to ICE upon a juvenile's arrest, they will not refer until a juvenile is actually convicted. The Board sees this as a compromise. However the Mayor's office sees the Board's action as a threat to the continued legal viability of San Francisco's sanctuary status. This will be an issue to watch as the local versus federal laws surrounding sanctuary cities are tested in legal challenges.

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee