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October 23, 2009

Give Youth Immigrants Due Process

Adrienne is a student at The Urban School of San Francisco and a reporter for The Urban Legend.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved legislation that prohibits city officials from alerting federal immigration authorities when an illegal immigrant under the age of 18 is arrested on felony charges. Adrienne, 16, argues that deporting young people before they are proven guilty of a crime eliminates their right to due process.

On Oct. 20, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved legislation that would make sure that juveniles who are illegal immigrants get due process if they are arrested for committing a crime.

The legislation, which was introduced by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, would prohibit city officials from alerting federal immigration authorities when an illegal immigrant under the age of 18 is arrested on felony charges.

Currently, youths who are not legal residents in the United States are reported upon their arrest on felony charges to federal immigration officials for possible deportation. With the Campos legislation, federal authorities would be notified that the youth is living here illegally only if he or she is convicted.

As the supervisors voted, a wide range of San Franciscans filled the hearing room to plead with the board to approve the legislation. Many were wearing little green stickers bearing sentiments such as “Keep families together.”

A sanctuary city?

San Franciscans have debated this issue for decades,beginning in 1989 when San Francisco formally declared itself a sanctuary city.This status means that the county of San Francisco has the ability to shieldillegal immigrants from federal authorities unless superseded by federal law.

In 1992, the city withdrew sanctuary protections forillegal immigrants arrested for a felony, but did not enforce the amendment.

In 2008, all of that changed. Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant, has been charged with killing Tony Bologna and his two sons in San Francisco. Authorities discovered that Ramos had previously been arrested as a juvenile, but because of city policy, was not deported. Danielle Bologna, wife and mother of the victims, believes her family died because Ramos was not deported as a youth. Ramos is now on trial and has pled not guilty to each of the three murder charges.

Following the public outrage surrounding this case, Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered law enforcement officials to report immigration status to federal authorities for youths and adults immediately upon arrest on felonycharges, thereby changing the policy.

Such a policy would be ‘inappropriate and ineffective’

Cases such as that of Edwin Ramos make proposed protections for illegal youths contentious. However, the benefits of the legislation outweigh its potentially negative aspects.

The policy, without Supervisor Campos’ proposed changes, does not work. Deporting youths solely because it is alleged, but not proven, that they have committed a felony means that they are determined guilty upon arrest.

This eliminates the right of due process. As Campos said when introducing his legislation, “none of us wants to condone criminal activity, but there is a difference between being accused and being guilty.”

When these youths lose the protection of the sanctuary city policy immediately upon arrest, it makes their guilt or their innocence irrelevant.

Furthermore, despite these illegal immigrants’ lack of citizenship, they often have tight bonds of family and community in the United States. Deporting a youth often means separating him or her from family and friends.

If the idea is to find the true perpetrator of a crime, and also to act humanely in treating juveniles who are moving through the legal system, then the policy of deportation regardless of guilt is inappropriate and ineffective.

Defending the rights of immigrants

Unfortunately, despite the supervisors’ 8-2 vote to approve the legislation, Newsom has promised to veto the legislation and to instruct the law enforcement officials to continue reporting youths’ immigration status to federal immigration officials.

A spokesperson for the mayor, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, said, “the Campos bill isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” Newsom states that the city cannot oppose federal law.

The probation officers, whose job it is to report the youths to immigration authorities, along with other opponents, contend that the Campos legislation will conflict with federal law and open the city up to lawsuits.

Yet on other occasions, city officials have taken risks to follow what they believe is right. Just as this city skirted federal law in favor of same-sex marriage and health care for all, so too should we be willing to defend the rights of illegal immigrants.

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