3 more illegal immigrant offenders from S.F. flee youth homes
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, July 18, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO -- Three more juvenile illegal immigrant drug dealers sent by San Francisco to group homes hundreds of miles from the city have escaped, prompting juvenile probation officials to seek to bring back the only youth remaining at such a center.

The two latest escapees left an undisclosed group home in Visalia (Tulare County) on Thursday, said William Siffermann, San Francisco's juvenile probation chief. Siffermann said he had only learned of the third case, the June disappearance of an offender from another group home in Visalia, on Friday.

The three were among the offenders previously protected from possible deportation under a long-standing city policy against handing over illegal immigrant juveniles to federal authorities, even those convicted of felonies.

Chronicle stories about the policy prompted a national outcry, and Mayor Gavin Newsom rescinded it earlier this month. The city has since referred at least 10 juvenile offenders to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for possible deportation.

Newsom acted shortly after eight Honduran juveniles convicted of dealing crack on the city's streets walked away from unlocked group homes in San Bernardino County, where the Juvenile Probation Department had sent them rather than refer them to federal authorities. Only two of the eight have been tracked down.

The most recent escapees were also convicted of drug offenses, Siffermann said. They were sent to Tulare County earlier this year, he said, and were still at large Friday night.

The only illegal immigrant offender still at a group home outside the city is at a center in Atascadero (San Luis Obispo County), Newsom said.

The mayor said the Juvenile Probation Department would ask a judge to order the youth back to San Francisco for resentencing because the city now considers him to be a flight risk.

The department had already declared it would not refer any additional illegal immigrant youths to the group homes after the San Bernardino County escapes.

Newsom said city officials suspect that the latest two escapees left the Tulare County group home after being tipped that they could be deported, although the city had not reported them to federal immigration officials.

"In many respects, this is a consequence of the policy change," Newom said. "It goes without saying, there is an arrest warrant out.

"Enough is enough," Newsom said.

Siffermann said the two latest escapees "were presenting themselves as adjusting positively in these placements. In one case, we were just out to visit on the 8th of July. We had positive reports.

"We have unconfirmed reports that they received a call" just before they fled, Siffermann said. "Someone called and they left."

As for the June escapee from Visalia, Siffermann said a juvenile probation officer had reported the disappearance at the time, but that because of a clerical error, word hadn't gotten to officials until Friday.

E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at jvanderbeken@sfchronicle.com.

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