Protected Immigrant Faces Charges in Stabbing

Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 2008

An immigrant suspected of being in the United States illegally—freed after being shielded from possible deportation by San Francisco officials despite committing two gang-related assaults as a juvenile—faces charges that he tried to stab a man to death last year in San Mateo County, authorities say.

The case of Eric Antonio Uc-Cahun, now 19, a native of Mexico, is the second in which a youthful offender protected from deportation in San Francisco has later been arrested for a violent crime as an adult.

The San Mateo County stabbing was especially vicious, authorities said—a top prosecutor said the victim had been “gutted, like you gut a pig.”

Uc-Cahun’s history of youth offenses in the city was similar to that of Edwin Ramos, a 21-year-old Salvadoran native facing triple-murder charges in connection with the slayings in June of a San Francisco man and two of his sons on an Excelsior district street.

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Both Uc-Cahun and Ramos were in San Francisco’s juvenile justice system at least twice during Mayor Gavin Newsom’s time in office, Ramos for an assault and an attempted robbery he committed when he was 17, Uc-Cahun in connection with assaults and other crimes for which he was arrested in 2006.

Juvenile justice officials protected both Ramos and Uc-Cahun from federal authorities under their interpretation of San Francisco’s sanctuary law, which bars the city from cooperating in U.S. efforts to hunt down illegal immigrants.

However, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office concluded last month that nothing in the law prevented San Francisco from turning over suspected youth felons to federal immigration authorities. Newsom has since ordered juvenile justice officials to provide information on felons suspected of being illegal immigrants to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Since the policy change, more than 50 juvenile offenders have been referred to federal immigration officials, according to juvenile probation authorities.

Arrest as an adult

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Uc-Cahun was arrested in September 2007 and has been held without bail since. In March, following a preliminary hearing, a judge ordered Uc-Cahun to stand trial.

The victim, whom The Chronicle is not identifying at the request of prosecutors, testified at a preliminary hearing that, “I pulled up my shirt and I seen my guts were hanging out of my stomach.

“My friends wanted to get them back,” he said, but “all I did was lay down, (and say) ‘Man, take me to the hospital.’ ”

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[Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney for Northern California] said the arrests of Uc-Cahun and Ramos raise the question of whether other juvenile offenders who were kept from deportation in San Francisco went on to become criminal suspects as adults.

“These attacks demonstrate that these people are acting with impunity because they have little to fear,” Russoniello said.

Ballard said officials are conducting a “top to bottom” review of practices under the sanctuary city ordinance to make sure San Francisco is complying with federal and state laws related to immigrant felony offenders.

“These are complex questions,” Ballard said. “It’s not just one ordinance, it’s many, many years, going back to 1985, of policies made in many ways. There’s a lot of excavation to be done.”

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