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City leaders pledge not to enforce Federal felony immigration law

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Aldrich M. Tan

April 7, 2006

Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials reinstated San Francisco as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants Thursday, anticipating that the United States Senate would pass a bill that would criminalize over 11 million immigrants this evening.

Newsom vocalized his disapproval of House Resolution 4437 which would make all undocumented immigrants felons and require all employers to verify the immigrant statuses of their employees.

In a midday City Hall steps press conference, the mayor said he signed a resolution that city law enforcement will not arrest the 39 percent of local undocumented immigrants if they are declared felons by tonight's decision.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom

"San Francisco stands in strong opposition to the rhetoric coming out of Washington D.C.," he said. "We're not going to put up with the bigotry and racial profiling."

The bill mandates that illegal immigrants be deported, and makes it a crime to assist these immigrants.

If HR 4437 becomes law, San Francisco's law enforcement agencies will not seek to enforce the new criminal classifications related to immigration status, according to a resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

In 1989, a "city of refuge'' ordinance was passed in San Francisco to prohibit the use of city funds to "enforce the civil provisions of federal immigration law,'' the supervisors' resolution states.

In February, Newsom re-affirmed the city's commitment to the ordinance, calling San Francisco a "sanctuary city.''

Likening the immigration policy debate to the controversy over same-sex marriage, Newsom promised San Francisco would act defiantly to oppose national legislation if necessary.

This is the second time that San Francisco declared itself a sanctuary city for immigrants, Newsom said. The city first established sanctuary policies in 1989.

"The city's history was founded by immigration," the mayor continued. "No mayor has the right to run this city unless they recognize all San Franciscans, both documented and undocumented."

City assessor Phil Ting said that Congress' actions have been hypocritical.

"For the Statue of Liberty to say 'give us your tired and hungry' and for our government to turn them away is wrong," he said.

San Francisco Assesor Phil Ting

City treasurer Jose Cisneros vocalized his support for his "brothers and sisters in the Latino community" who are also immigrants.

"San Francisco is a city of compassion," he said. "Everyone has a chance to be successful here, no matter who they are."

San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros

Diana Lau, president of the Immigration Rights Commission, said she is proud of being a San Franciscan.

"The mayor and the leaders of San Francisco took the lead today," she said.

"Building borders does not work. Why is the government re-iterating things that do not work?"

Diana Lau (right), president of the Immigration Rights Commission

Tim Paulson, San Francisco Labor Council leader, said he would assure that all workers in the community will be treated with justice.

"There is no such thing as an illegal worker," he said. "There is no such thing as an illegal human being."

Tim Paulson (right), San Francisco Labor Council

Rodis Rodel, a leader of the city's Filipino community, said that he could go to jail if the national legislation is passed.

"This is the most erroneous bill in the last 79 years," he said. "National citizenship discrimination is the biggest civil rights issue of our time and we need to all take a stand for it."

Anamaria Loya, executive director of La Raza Centro Legal Inc., said her friend Julio from Peru could also be arrested if the bill passes.

"He made a heartbreaking choice of leaving his family so that he could create a better life for his children in America," she said. "Julio's worse fear is that his son will not recognize him when he comes back to Peru."

Anamaria Loya (right), executive director of La Raza Centro Legal

A Day of Action is scheduled to take place next Monday evening with the help of students from San Francisco State University, Loya said. Twenty students came from San Francisco State University attended today's event with handmade posters protesting for immigration rights.

"The university prides itself for being the most diverse campus in America," student body president Chris Jackson said.

A group of students had gone on hunger strike for several weeks, student Amrah Salamón Johnson, 28, said. She asked Newsom to waive the penalties that students incurred for their actions.

Amrah Salamón Johnson

It's no surprise that San Francisco has established itself as a sanctuary city because it has always been a community that has been tolerant of immigrant communities, said Luna Yasui, Chinese for Affirmative Action policy director.

Sin Yen Ling, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, said that the mayor's words were impressive but she hopes that the mayor will put his words to action if HR 4437 passes.

"I also hope that Newsom will work with other mayors in Oakland and San Jose, which are also immigrant community hubs," he said.

Ling said she and many other immigrant rights workers will be watching the national government's decision over the immigration bill.

"I'll be glued to the internet tonight waiting for the results," Ling said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Senate reached a consensus over the immigration bill that would lead to the eventual citizenship of 11 mil. immigrants. According to the Associated Press, immigrants who have been in the country between two and five years would return to their home country briefly and return as temporary workers while immigrants residing for longer than five years would not be required to return home, but those who have been in the United States for less than two years would have to return home and take their places in line with others seeking entry papers.

Bay City News Service staff writer Angela Hokanson contributed to this report.




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