| Sanctuary Ordinance Enters Difficult Territory
By Jonathan Farrell Dec 22, 2009
With the cheers for SF Supervisor David Campos and his amendment to the City’s Sanctuary Ordinance this past October, now emerges a very difficult path. Campos and the Board of Supervisors want to uphold the Sanctuary Ordinance to ensure civil rights for undocumented workers and their families. But the issue of crime and the State and Federal regulations regarding undocumented persons is very delicate.
The subject of crime has been the stumbling block to recent efforts to maintain or with the Campos amendment distinguish and clarify this ordinance.
Melissa Griffin of the SF Examiner perhaps said it best when she wrote in her column on Nov. 17, “the heart of the sanctuary city controversy, is simply a statement of what is legally obvious: When local law conflicts with federal law, federal law wins.”
Oh but this is San Francisco! A special place with special circumstances, a trailblazing history of pioneers establishing the unprecedented. Perhaps this is what Campos has in mind? But again, what opponents seem to point to most is felony crime, especially felony crime among juveniles. The high profile Edwin Ramos case in particular sticks out in most opponents’ minds.
As this reporter attended the public safety committee hearing at City Hall on Oct. 5, there was a tremendous outcry for the fair and just treatment of all immigrants and their families. Apart from the Ramos case, this amended seemed plain and clear.
Campos’ intentions are quite simple, civil rights for all, citizens as well as the undocumented. As a nation founded and enhanced by immigrants, Campos was adamant at the hearing that what he and the Board of Supervisors were doing through his amendment was safeguarding against racial profiling and misuse of force.
“Future generations will be proud of what San Francisco has done,” proclaimed Campos.
But it is this issue of crime and in particular felonies by juveniles that seems to be the cloud hovering over such a "clear sky" of an amendment.
Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed the Campos amendment, only to have the Board of Supervisors override Newsom’s veto on Nov. 10. It seems the fear with regards to yielding to Federal authority on part of the Supervisors stems from the fact that undocumented workers are among the most vulnerable among the population.
Campos sent a letter on Dec. 10 to the City Attorney saying that “Mayor Newsom’s decision to unilaterally ignore legislation that was duly enacted by the Board of Supervisors is nothing short of unprecedented.” Campos sees the Mayor’s action as having “ramifications that go beyond the issue of the Sanctuary Ordinance…undermining the democratic process that is at the heart of our system of government.”
The ordinance in question changes city officials’ obligations to report juveniles to immigration authorities if those juveniles get caught up in the criminal justice system. Previously, young people were reported when they were arrested for felony crimes. Under the new ordinance, city authorities are supposed to report the juveniles not at the time of arrest but only in case of a conviction.
Here again is where it gets complicated. Much of the attention in the Ramos case involved yet another issue, gangs and drug trafficking. This adds to more fear on all sides of this controversial ordinance.
And unfortunately, the attention of crime entangled in this sanctuary ordinance seems to subconsciously point toward Mexico, Central and South America. Which then leads into another subtle question: Is this amendment subconsciously addressing the issue of racism aimed at Latinos? And then the subject of labor is toss in at some point.
What about undocumented workers and illegal immigrants from other parts of the world? While mentioned briefly at the Oct. 5 hearing a detailed example of their lives in the intense media coverage compared to the Ramos case seems to be absent.
The day after Thanksgiving, Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement proclaiming that this coming Jan. 17 will be a Day for Migrants and Refugees. His address gave witness to the fact that the number of people seeking asylum and a better life in another country is rising.
According to the Associated Press migrant (or undocumented) workers and their children are a concern not only here in San Francisco, but also worldwide.
Apart from religious influences the City’s Sanctuary Ordinance, it seems, simply wants to ensure the ethical civil rights of all people — ensuring that no one is abused or neglected.
The City Attorney’s Office sent a letter to Joseph Russoniello, the US attorney for the Northern District of California. City Attorney Herrera is hoping to salvage the already strained relationship between San Francisco City Government and Federal laws.
The New York Times reported that Russoniello has warned Herrera that the Federal Government that constitutionally retains the exclusive power to set immigration policy, and therefore, “cannot, as a general matter, promise not to prosecute for violations of federal law.”
In his response letter to Herrera on Dec. 3, which arrived just as the Mission Dispatch was going to press, Russoniello reiterated that he does not have the authority to grant amnesty to anyone.
If Russoniello finds that the City of San Francisco is in violation of Federal laws will this place the City Attorney’s office in a very difficult situation? It is possible that our entire City government will then be in an uneasy stance with Federal authority. And if Russoniello takes action in any applicable case situation, will there be far reaching repercussions? Perhaps only time will tell.
The Mission Dispatch contacted Herrera’s office for further comment. “It’s no secret that the new amendment poses some legal challenges for the City,” said Matt Dorsey, press secretary for Herrera. “But the City Attorney has also made clear that case law in this area is not well settled, and it’s impossible to predict with certainty whether, or to what extent, federal or state law conflicts with it.”
No doubt, the Mission Dispatch among many others will be following up on this situation, as the amendment became official on Dec. 7.
For more information about the amendment visit: http://www.sfbos.org/index.aspx?page=9850 , see agenda item 6.
For details about the City Attorney’s letter to District Attorney Russoniello, see Nov. 10 press release at web site: http://www.sfcityattorney.org/index.aspx?page=262
And, to review Russoniello’s Dec. 3 response to Herrera click on "Russoniello press kit" at City Attorney’s web site at: http://www.sfcityattorney.org/
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