A safe sanctuary city

Pub date September 16, 2008
WriterBobbi Lopez
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

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OPINION Amid a sea of reporters, I sat in a community meeting in the Mission District last week as city officials struggled to address the rash of homicides that have occurred in the past two weeks. As we listened to the endless chatter, I was greatly dismayed because we were avoiding the elephant in the room — the complete lack of trust between the police department and our communities of color.

I fear that that the relationship between communities of color and the police department has deteriorated beyond repair — in part because of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s xenophobic and inflammatory headlines.

It has been two months since the Chronicle began its skewed campaign of blame, pointing the finger at SF’s Sanctuary City laws as responsible for the rise in crime in San Francisco. The paper limited its coverage to the most extreme cases, such as undocumented homeless youth forced to traffic in narcotics. The stories failed to mention that immigrants are statistically less likely to become involved in crime — and when victimized, are less likely to report the crime.

Now we have gutted our sanctuary-city status with a new policy — one requiring police and probation officers to report detained youth to immigration officials if they even suspect that the detainees are undocumented. There are already reports that the police are arbitrarily stopping and ticketing young Latino males for trivial infractions such as "rosaries obstructing car views" as part of their Violence Prevention Traffic Unit work.

This new policy mandates that we refer immigrant youth charged with felonies to deportation proceedings prior to determining their innocence. What happened to due process?

As a community organizer, I have seen firsthand the tragedy inflicted on families when city officials send students in San Francisco public schools to deportation before determining their innocence or guilt. This regressive policy avoids any input from those most qualified to give it — the district attorney and the public defender.

Here’s the irony of it all — further attacks on the Sanctuary City policy will not produce a safer San Francisco. Indeed, wives and girlfriends in our immigrant communities will be less likely to report incidents of domestic violence for fear their loved ones (or themselves!) will be summarily deported. Conscientious neighborhood residents will be less likely to report vandalism or other youth mischief for fear that children in their community will be spirited away overnight by immigration authorities. And what about homicide? Undocumented people witnessed the murder of a youth and a father in the last two months, but have refused to come forward out of fear that the police will report them to immigration authorities.

Immigrants already live in the shadows of this great nation. They are the economic backbone of California — washing our dishes, picking our produce, and generally subsidizing all of our lifestyles. Police collaboration with immigration officials will force an already exploited population further underground, and engender even greater distrust of those institutions purporting to serve and protect them. *

Barbara "Bobbi" Lopez is a community organizer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and a candidate for Board of Education.