Immigrants Denounce Press Hysteria; Rally for Youth and Families

by Paul Hogarth on July 30, 2008

Alarmed at a rising anti-immigrant hysteria in the Chronicle and other media sources, an impressive coalition of 27 organizations rallied in front of City Hall yesterday to defend San Francisco’s Sanctuary Ordinance – and to demand that the feds not deport immigrant youth who are charged with crimes. The Sanctuary Ordinance does not hurt – but rather improves – public safety in San Francisco, as it encourages immigrant communities to report crimes to the police. As Mayor Gavin Newsom flip-flopped on how the City responded to Honduran teenagers charged with drug dealing, San Francisco has been front and center in the war on immigrant families – with the right-wing Minutemen planning to hold a rally today in front of City Hall. Yesterday’s message was clear: don’t separate families, don’t deport kids who have spent most of their lives in this country, and preserve San Francisco’s status as a Sanctuary City.

“Far from causing crime,” said Angela Chan of Asian Law Caucus, “the City’s Sanctuary Ordinance saves lives. We’re asking the media to write more balanced and thoughtful reporting on this issue – rather than scapegoat immigrants.” Bernadette Herrera of the Pilipino Community Center, who has lived here for 7 years, said she was exploited and discriminated by employers (including getting paid below minimum wage) because of her immigration status – until she learned of the City’s Sanctuary Ordinance. “Now I know workers have rights, my kids can go to school and we can fight for our rights.”

San Francisco’s official policy for the last two decades has been to not inquire about an immigrant’s status, nor to co-operate with federal authorities. But as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has pursued raids, tensions have risen. After Mayor Gavin Newsom learned that the City had quietly helped Honduran teenagers charged with drug crimes leave the country to avoid the consequences of a federal deportation, Newsom – with an eye on the Governor’s race – announced that the City would cease this practice.

“We as a City believe in rehabilitation when it comes to our youth,” said Supervisor Tom Ammiano – who authored the original Sanctuary Ordinance. “This is not to say that we don’t hold our youth accountable – but they deserve the same rights as all of our youth. We will not be bullied by federal authorities. We cannot protect some, and throw out others to the wolves.” While any teenager charged with a drug crime would be convicted (and possibly tried as adults), those who are undocumented immigrants face the additional specter of deportation – and permanent separation from their families.

Many immigrant youth came here as small children with their parents, and have no real connection with their native country. “It’s unfair to deport children,” said Alma Pozos, an eight-year-old girl with La Voz Latina. “Children are children, and immigrants only come here to work. I have no one to take care of me in Mexico.” Yolanda Interian, whose 14-year-old son has been accused of robbery, also fears his deportation. “My child is now on probation,” she said, “and he is observing everything he’s told to do. But he’s afraid every time he has contact with the police.”

Others spoke about the need to reframe the discussion differently. “I came here as an undocumented youth from Guatemala at age 14,” said David Campos – who now serves on San Francisco’s Police Commission. “Whenever we talk about immigrant youth, we never talk about why they came here. We came here for a better life. We literally risked our lives to be here because we seek the American Dream.”

School Board President Mark Sanchez noted that San Francisco’s School District unanimously passed a resolution to literally shut the school doors if ICE ever tried to conduct raids on campus. “The Mayor has been good on schools,” he said, “but he needs to stand up on this issue and not bend to pressure by the media. The San Francisco Chronicle needs to stand by our families. They are fear-mongering, and I condemn it.”

And the fear mongering shows no sign of stopping. Besides the Chronicle putting pressure on Gavin Newsom as he aims for the Governorship, FOX News and CNN’s Lou Dobbs can be counted upon to continue stoking the fears of racial prejudice. At the end of yesterday’s rally, emcee Eric Quezada noted that the Minutemen are scheduled to hold a rally today at City Hall at 11:00 a.m. – which will undoubtedly create a media firestorm.

“We will not stand by as immigrant communities are scapegoated by the press,” said Quezada. After all, that’s what the Minutemen want to see happen.

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