Last week, I joined community members from Causa Justa – Just Cause, Mujeres Unidas Y Activas, La Raza Centro Legal, amongst others, in chanting “Undocumented! Unafraid!” “El Pueblo Unido, Jamás Será Vencido!” (which translates to “the people united, will never be divided”) at the steps of San Francisco City Hall. Sanctuary City Ordinance and the implementation of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) were being contested and voted on by the Board of Supervisors after the very tragic loss of Kate Steinle at Pier 14, who was fatally shot earlier this year by an undocumented man. The Nov. 3 primary presidential election has polarized politics and anti-immigration rhetoric further threatening the safety net for undocumented immigrants and those seeking refuge from danger all around the world.
San Francisco first adopted Sanctuary City Ordinance in 1989, following the wave of Central American migrants who were fleeing the dangers of civil war and were seeking refuge in the north. This policy prohibited city employees from aiding Immigration Naturalization Service (now called ICE) in any deportation proceedings or investigations. PEP is the replacement of Secure Communities – allowing partnership between law enforcement at the federal, state, local with the Department of Homeland Security (2008 – 2014). With PEP, police will be able to share fingerprints with ICE, where they will identify and have the discretion whether the detainee is , “high priority” or “low-priority”, though, local law enforcement can and will notify ICE to follow deportation proceedings.
Removing Sanctuary City Ordinance, implementing PEP, and cooperating with ICE would be a disastrous move for the Board of Supervisors and progressive San Francisco. Immigrants in San Francisco will refuse to cooperate with police to solve a crime or fight for justice if they know that their fingerprints will be shared with federal authorities. Community members shared their stories in the chamber of supervisors: victims of domestic violence who did not call the police because they were afraid that the system that is set in place to fight for justice and to protect them will be the same system that betrays them and refer them to ICE; folks who have turned their life around and have helped the community were still detained even after fulfilling agreements with local law enforcement; even United States Citizens whom were mistaken for someone who is undocumented with a criminal history and had firsthand experience of the flawed immigration and criminal system in the United States and did not receive an apology or compensation for errors committed by ICE.
Supervisor Mark Farrell proposed a resolution to revoke San Francisco’s Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s department-wide memo to not share information with ICE until the sheriff authorizes it, transforming Sanctuary City Ordinance into a counterproductive and ineffective ordinance. The San Francisco residents in the chamber were united and undivided, standing up with their backs against Mr. Farrell while he had the floor – an act of civil disobedience against the written bylaws of a guest’s presence in the chamber. Supervisor Malia Cohen eloquently and effectively spoke out on the dangers of the proposed resolution and advocated strongly on behalf of the immigrant community; supported by Supervisor John Avalos, Supervisor Jane Kim and Supervisor David Campos, among others. After the stories were shared, and the resolution was put up for a vote, Supervisor Farrell’s resolution was tabled but the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to reject the implementation of PEP in the city and county of San Francisco.
This victory is not just for the residents of San Francisco – to once again attempt to build rapport with law enforcement and fight for justice locally – but a victory for the rest of the country. The City by the Bay is proving that being progressive and having pro-immigrant policies is safer for the community as a whole. We are setting an example for the rest of the nation and putting a stop to anti-immigration rhetoric and laws, like those found in Arizona and Alabama. We are taking immigration into our hands. Our fight for equal rights and status does not stop here; we have work to do!
Photo courtesy of Edwin Carmona-Cruz