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Latina ten-year legal resident recounts horror story of police encounter

By Pat Murphy

August 24, 2006

A legal defense network for immigrants fearful America has turned inward was launched in San Francisco yesterday, presenting an unnamed legal resident with a local horror story to tell.

She presented herself as a ten-year resident of San Francisco humiliated by a San Francisco Police officer based on racial profiling.

Photo(s) by Stephen Dorian Miner

Intermittently in tears, she said the incident left her afraid to go outside.

Others told of similar police encounters in a City Hall press conference unveiling the Immigrant Rights Network structured by API Legal Outreach, formerly known as Nihonmachi Legal Outreach.

The network has filed a complaint against the police officer with the San Francisco Office of Citizens Complaints, reported API Legal Outreach director Victor Hwang.

The woman was stopped by an officer for alleged jaywalking and interrogated "regarding her immigration status and subjected to demeaning comments over her level of English proficiency," Hwang maintained.

She detailed the incident in a private meeting with media which agreed not to reveal her identify. The group did not name the police officer.

"I heard someone yelling at me on a microphone and I turned around and saw that it was a police officer," the Guatemala native said through an interpreter.

"I stayed put not knowing what to do.

"He came up to me and said, 'Do you have your papers or do you want to go to jail?'

"He asked me how long I had been in this country and I said I had been here ten years.

"He questioned why I didn't speak English better if I had lived in this country for that long.

"I apologized for not speaking English well.

"He didn't accept my apology - 'It's not about being sorry. You need to learn English,'" she related his response.

The street crossing light had turned green when she crossed the street, she asserted, and the $119 ticket would cause financial hardship, she said she told the officer.

"I told the officer, 'I'm on disability so it is going to be very difficult for me to pay the ticket and he said, 'Well then you'll just have to go to jail.'"

"So when I went to 850 Bryant I am very scared."

She paid the ticket August 24, she told reporters. Now represented by an attorney, a court hearing is scheduled in September, she added.

"I'm afraid to go out onto the streets.

"I feel in my heart that it's unjust that latino immigrants ... are being treated in this way and intimidated in this way, and I have papers and I feel scared like that and I know that many in my community do not have the same status that I do."

Immigrants are often unaware of existing legal protections, one member of a legal assistance agency stated.

"You have rights," Anamaria Loya of La Raza Centro Legal pointed out.

"You have rights under our constitution and you have rights in this City.

"You have a right not to be harassed based on your immigration status.

"You have a right to not answer the police about your immigration status. It is none of their business where you were born or what your immigration status is.

"You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney."

Loya urged immigrants to reach out for legal assistance.

"If you find yourselves facing law enforcement officers and you need support - you need immigrants rights advocates, you need attorneys, people in the community to back you up - you have that support.

"La Raza Central Legal offers our support to our immigrant brothers and sisters... call us at 415-575-3500."

An elected official representing the Mission District's large immigrant population said San Francisco has a history of valuing immigrants.

"I think we are up to the challenge because immigrant rights, full equality for immigrants, is a clearly a San Francisco value," stated District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly.

Supervisor Chris Daly

"It's not only built into the history of this City but the everyday reality where literally 40% of San Franciscans were born in a country other than the United States of America - we are truly an international City.

"We are truly a City of immigrants both second, third, fourth generation as well as actually immigrants in a near majority in San Francisco.

"We will continue... to legislate in order to ensure full rights for immigrants in San Francisco."

The new City budget "earmarked $1 million to prepare for attacks coming down from the federal government, to prepare for the types of incidents that we're seeing here today in a pro-active way to protect immigrant rights," Daly noted.

A latina community leader warned of "federal legislation that is still pending which would among other things take entire communities and turn them into aggravated felons causing local enforcement to continue racial profiling, detaining and arresting people illegally."

"That legislation would gut the San Francisco City of Refuge Ordinance which we currently require local law enforcement to respect," reported Renee Saucedo, director of the San Francisco based Day Labor Program.

Saucedo announced a September 4 San Francisco march demanding immigrant rights in conjunction with nationwide protests set Labor Day Weekend.

"Here in San Francisco a regional coalition are very proud to announce our march on September 4," continued Saucedo.

"We invite everyone who cares about this issue to please come out on Monday, September 4, at 10:00 a.m. and we will be meeting at Embarcadero Justin Herman Plaza."

The API Immigrant Network also partners with St. Peter's Housing Committee, telephone 415-487-9203.




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