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Critics give local cities “failing grades” on immigration policies

on September 7, 2008


RICHMOND, Sept. 6—Critics of Bay Area immigration policy and a panel of local city officials crowded into a Richmond church cafeteria today to address issues affecting undocumented workers.

The Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (BAIRC), which organized the four-hour midday meeting, asked the panel of officials from Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Pablo, San Francisco, and Marin county to respond to four specific issues. Attendees gave five local counties “failing grades” for their protection of immigrant rights, accusing them of supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and using checkpoints to target undocumented workers while not pushing for or enforcing municipal ID card programs or “sanctuary state” laws.

Berkeley resident Mariacruz Manzanarez described the official policies and attitudes toward immigrants in the Bay Area as hostile. “Immigrants are being criminalized,” she said. “The titles they give us are ‘illegal immigrant’—that we’re criminals. We’re not that. If anything, we’re workers.”

Most of the city officials present professed full support for the Coalition’s positions. Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin addressed what she termed “just anger” over recent ICE raids. “I continue to oppose all ICE raids,” she said.

Pilar Schiavo, legal aid to San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Tom Ammiano, agreed. “The raids that have happened in San Francisco are an outrage,” she said.

However, Kriss Worthington of the Berkeley City Council qualified his support of municipal ID laws, calling them a “stupid idea.” Worthington believes identification cards should come from the state level, “but if our governor and legislature are too stupid to do it, we have to do it at the city level.”

The Oakland City Council will be considering legislation this fall that would establish a municipal ID card program for Oakland. San Francisco approved an ID program in November 2007, but Mayor Gavin Newsom recently suspended its implementation pending further review.

Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus, the only official on the panel who was the target of hostile questions from the audience, was diplomatic in his response to the “report cards.” Acknowledging the gathering’s undercurrent of animosity towards Richmond police, Magnus said, “We have a long ways to go, there’s no question about it. But as the police chief I’m here to assure that each member of the community is treated with respect and dignity.”

Magnus denied that Richmond police cooperate with ICE agents. They are concerned, he said, with enforcing local law “in a way that is consistent, human, and fair to everyone.”

Magnus noted that he was the only law enforcement official speaking on the panel. “That’s really why I’m here today,” he said. “To hear what the community has to say.”

The meeting came on the heels of September 3 ICE raids in which 23 arrests were made at Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata, Ca., and at residences in the surrounding area.

In May 2008, ICE reported making over 900 arrests in California, with almost half of those in Northern California.

During those May sweeps, the presence of ICE agents near schools in Berkeley and Oakland caused panic as rumors spread about ICE arrests. After family members of two students were arrested, many parents feared that children would be taken from schools.

The Oakland Unified School District has dealt with these concerns in the past. In December 2007 ICE officers detained and questioned a woman as she was bringing her child to Melrose Bridges Academy in East Oakland. In response, the Board of Education passed a resolution affirming the district’s commitment to provide services to all registered students, documented or not, and requiring district staff to refer all ICE inquiries to the district’s legal department.

Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco passed “City of Refuge” ordinances or resolutions in the 1970s or 1980s, which state that city employees will not report to federal officials the immigration status of people who use city services, unless required by federal law. All have recently reaffirmed their sanctuary city status.

Controversy erupted recently over the case of a 14-year-old Honduran immigrant arrested for dealing crack cocaine in San Francisco. A San Francisco judge had ruled that the boy be treated as a social welfare case rather than as a criminal, but on August 27 the Juvenile Probation Department turned him over to ICE agents.

The City of San Francisco has drawn criticism from federal authorities for its policies towards undocumented juvenile offenders. In June the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a program of sending juveniles back to their countries of origin on city-funded flights. Federal authorities criticized this as a tactic to protect offenders from deportation, violating federal law. The city suspended the program after it became public.

The City’s policies also drew attention when a former juvenile offender, Edwin Ramos, was accused of murdering three people on June 22. Though charged with felonies as a juvenile, San Francisco’s sanctuary policy prevented police from sending him to federal authorities for deportation.×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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