San Francisco Approves Law to Protect Illegal Juveniles

Fox News, October 27, 2009

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The Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday to a measure that would keep law enforcement from turning over minors to immigration authorities unless they have been found guilty of a felony.

The move pits the panel against Mayor Gavin Newsom and law enforcement by reversing his policy of turning over youths to Immigration and Customs Enforcement after their arrest.

Newsom took the stance in 2008 after the city was accused of protecting young offenders such as Edwin Ramos from deportation.

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Since the mayor changed the policy, 149 undocumented juveniles charged with felonies have been referred to immigration officials, ICE said.

The newly approved measure is supported by civil rights groups, immigrant advocates and the Juvenile Division of the Public Defender’s Office, who contend it restores the right of minors to due process and gives them a chance to defend themselves before facing possible deportation and separation from their families.

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Those siding with the mayor–the police chief and district attorney, among others–argue the new ordinance will force officers to go against federal law by shielding undocumented immigrants and exposing the city to lawsuits.

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The measure must now go to Newsom, who has said he would veto it. Supervisors have said they would overturn his veto, a move likely to touch off a legal fight.

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At the heart of the issue is San Francisco’s City of Refuge ordinance, adopted in 1989 as part of a national sanctuary movement intended to help refugees from Central American civil wars. Dozens of cities across the country adopted similar sanctuary policies.

The sanctuary policy allows officials who encounter undocumented immigrants not to report them to federal officials. It’s credited with improving law enforcement relationships with the city’s large immigrant community.

Adults who commit crimes are completely exempted from protection, but the situation of minors was unclear under the rule. Instead of turning juveniles suspects over to immigration officers, San Francisco was housing them or flying them back to their home countries at city expense.

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