Editor’s Notes

Pub date November 10, 2009
WriterTim Redmond


I went to a nice suburban high school in a nice suburban town, and my friends were all middle-class kids, mostly white, who were all headed for college. But at some point during our four-year stints, every one of us got in trouble.

There were fights. There was pot. There was underage drinking. There was the bowl-three-games-and run-out-the-door-without-paying plan. There was the time our poor Latin teacher fell asleep during a test and we all took our test papers and climbed out the second-floor window and ran off to a donut shop. Somebody shot out Mrs. DeLuca’s window with a Wrist-Rocket one night, and I’m not telling who.

The assistant principal got involved; parents got involved; and on a relatively frequent basis, the police got involved.

That, I think, is fairly typical of teenage life — and it’s why we generally don’t treat teens who commit minor infractions as criminals. None of my friends ever went to jail. A couple of times it got as far as Judge Bettman’s court, and he’d issue a severe lecture. But that would be the end.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to be an immigrant teen in San Francisco these days.

There’s a 15-year-old girl Sarah Phelan writes about in this week’s cover story who got in a fight with her sister at school. Not a great moment in the history of adolescent behavior, but not such a big deal, really. Somehow though, the girl was referred to the Juvenile Probation authorities, who reported her to Immigration Control and Enforcement — and without warning, she was taken away from her family, her home, her school, her community, and whisked off to an internment center in Miami. From there, she could have been deported — at 15, to a country she left as a baby.

Imagine what it’s like to be 15, a San Francisco kid who’s always been an American, suddenly flown to Mexico, turned over to that country’s child protection service, and told that you’re home. Or to be told (without access to legal counsel) that you either have to turn in your parents (who will then be deported) or spend the next three years in prison or a foster home. And the only way to get back to San Francisco, where your whole community lives, is to come up with thousands of dollars (and how do you suppose a teen is going to do that?) to pay a smuggler to take you through a perilous desert border crossing where a whole lot of people die.

I can’t imagine it. It’s too awful.

This is happening, folks, and it’s happening right under our eyes, thanks to Mayor Gavin Newsom and his approach to juvenile justice. This is the human side of the policy discussions over Sup. David Campos’ sanctuary legislation.

High school kids in San Francisco have to live in mortal fear — I’m not kidding, deportation can be a death sentence — every single day because they have brown skin and come from a family that may have entered the country without papers. I’m sorry — a kid who came across the border as a baby didn’t break any laws, and shouldn’t be punished for it.

And the "crimes" that are literally ruining these young people’s lives often amount to little or nothing — to the shit most of my friends did too, once upon a time. Except we were white.