OPINION “Illegal Alien.” “Drug-dealing illegal immigrant youth.” “Criminal youth.”
How many times have these dehumanizing words appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in the last few months? Through unbalanced and sensationalist coverage of this handful of youth, the Chronicle is manufacturing a crisis in San Francisco. Writers like right-wing Chronicle columnist Cinnamon Stillwell and others are creating a mob mentality that is driving city policy and aims to distort and gut the intent of the Sanctuary City laws, which exist to preserve public safety in face of the challenging consequences of globalization.
Globalization has shown us that our world is a web of dynamic relationships. The consequences of the economic decisions made by governing bodies around the world include both the facilitation of movement for goods and services across national borders and the increased policing when that movement involves people; access to inexpensive products due to exploitative labor practices; and the exacerbation of global poverty, a form of systemic violence.
As we locally tackle the challenges imposed on us, we need to speak out against fearmongering journalism. Demonizing youth will not bring justice to families who have experienced loss from the actions of documented (or undocumented) individuals. That pain is real and cries out for redress. Individuals are accountable for their actions. While the Juvenile Courts are not perfect, they are where minors accused of committing crimes are held accountable.
The city needs to return authority over these children to the appropriate courts, which are legally mandated to consider the circumstances of each minor on a case-by-case basis to make a ruling, which may include placement in foster care, in a group home, release to a local family, or return to a family out of the country — and if the young person is found guilty of a felony, a transfer to federal immigration officials.
The unhappy reality is that there are undocumented, unaccompanied children in our community who resort to drug sales or other unsafe, illegal activities to survive and help support their families. The way in which queer youth seek sanctuary here from homophobic families parallels the struggles for survival of undocumented youth. The LGBTQ community recognizes our shared everyday struggle with immigrants, our right to exist in healthy, loving families, and as individuals with a healthy sense of self and dignity, even when those rights come under assault through the acts of individual, societal, and governmental bigotry, discrimination, and intervention.
The LGBTQ community recognizes that true justice requires that we transform social conditions. We call on all San Franciscans to stick to the ideals that underlie the democracy we so cherish, and call on our city officials to reassert our commitment to Sanctuary City and human rights.
Implementing the municipal ID program is a positive step. Any delays in its implementation undermine the public safety goals our city is attempting to achieve. As we seek to establish order in this mess — brought about through the criminalization of people’s movements — let’s stick to our principles, with the fullest regard for equal rights and due process for all of our youth.
Robert Haaland is a labor organizer with Pride at Work. Sofia Lee Morales works with the Queer Youth Organizing Project.