San Francisco: Sanctuary City Gone Awry
Cinnamon Stillwell

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

San Francisco's political establishment has long prided itself on providing a haven for illegal immigrants. Mayor Gavin Newsom even launched a taxpayer-funded $83,000 "public awareness campaign" earlier this year assuring illegal immigrants that the "sanctuary city" by the bay was in their court.

And indeed it is. Under the city's 1989 voter-approved sanctuary ordinance, police officers and other city employees are prohibited from inquiring into immigration status. In addition, the city will not direct municipal funds or employees towards assisting federal immigration enforcement, unless such assistance is required by federal or state law or a warrant.

No doubt such protections warm the heart of the city's liberal leadership. But San Francisco's status as a sanctuary city is having unintended consequences.

The brutal and senseless murder last month of Tony Bologna and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, at the hands of Edwin Ramos, a native of El Salvador and known member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) street gang, was a reminder that inviting illegal activity can turn deadly. The Bolognas were on their way back from a family picnic when they inadvertently blocked Ramos' car from making a left turn in the Excelsior district. When Bologna politely backed up to let the other car past, Ramos responded by opening fire and killing all three passengers. Ramos has been charged with three counts of murder, with the added penalty of street-gang involvement.

So far, much of the outcry surrounding the case has centered on San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris' policy of not seeking the death penalty, in this case, against the wishes of widow, Danielle Bologna. But in the process, Ramos' immigration status has largely been overlooked. Ramos' original lawyer, Joseph O'Sullivan, claimed that his client was in the country legally and applying for permanent residence, but federal immigration authorities insist otherwise and promise to deport Ramos if he is convicted. O'Sullivan has since asked to be removed from the case, claiming a connection via a previous client. Thus, he has never had to explain his assertions regarding Ramos' immigration status.

This certainly wasn't Ramos' first brush with the law. He was booked both on felony weapons charges and for being a member of a criminal street gang earlier this year, but escaped prosecution for lack of evidence. However, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Police Department "cited 'numerous documented contacts' that officers had with Ramos and [his companion] Lopez, and said both were Ôactive members of the MS-13 street gang.'" But thanks to San Francisco's sanctuary city status, instead of being reported to federal immigration authorities and deported, Ramos was allowed continue to roam the streets of San Francisco until his arrest for the Bologna killings.

San Francisco's sanctuary policy has also taken a statewide toll. While adult illegal immigrant felons are not protected by the ordinance, no such stipulation exists for juvenile offenders, and city officials have used that loophole to dump the problem onto other counties. Earlier this month, San Bernardino County officials threatened to sue the city of San Francisco for sending a group of Honduran, illegal immigrant, juvenile crack dealers to group homes in the city of Yucaipa without notification. Eight of them simply walked away from the unsecured group homes and only one has been recaptured. Officials later acknowledged that this wasn't the first time San Francisco had unloaded criminal illegal immigrants onto San Bernardino County. In fact, Yucaipa has seen a rise in violent crime in accordance with the influx of foreign offenders to its group homes in recent years.

This time around, the outcry from San Bernardino officials caused Mayor Newsom to alter the city's approach to juvenile offenders. No doubt, Newsom's interest in running for governor of California, which he announced just before the controversy erupted, influenced his decision. While Newsom may find a sympathetic audience in San Francisco to his former commitment to sanctuary protections for illegal immigrants, it could prove a liability on the statewide level.

Even on a local level, there's some indication that people are getting fed up with the city's insistence on emphasizing ideology over public safety. In a local CBS poll, 79 percent of respondents agreed that San Francisco should "turn over convicted illegal immigrants for deportation."

Monetary concerns are another factor. It doesn't help that Mayor Newsom and other officials bemoan the city's $338 million budget deficit, even as funds continue to pour into sustaining San Francisco's sanctuary city policies. San Francisco has spent millions of dollars housing juvenile, illegal immigrant offenders and hundreds of thousands of dollars flying them back to their countries of origin in recent years, instead of turning them over to federal immigration authorities as federal law requires. In the wake of the furor over the Honduran case and federal authorities' demand that San Francisco end the flights, the city started housing some of the dealers in youth rehabilitation centers, costing taxpayers $7,000 per month, per person.

Then there's San Francisco Supervisor and State Assembly candidate Tom Ammiano's brilliant plan to provide municipal identification cards to those who either cannot or will not obtain a state-issued driver's license – or in other words, illegal immigrants. Set to go into effect next month, the ID program could cost up to $2.86 million in the first three years, according to a County Clerk estimate. As it turns out, Newsom's aforementioned $83,000 taxpayer-funded love letter to illegal immigrants was just the icing on the cake.

Supporters of San Francisco's sanctuary city policies, which include members of the local faith community who inspired the original ordinance, argue that the current approach is the only humane solution. In its 2007 pledge, the New Sanctuary Movement, describing immigration raids, stated that "We cannot in good conscience ignore such suffering and injustice." But where is the compassion for the injustice inflicted upon American citizens? Others argue that juvenile illegal immigrants deserve special treatment because they are minors. But this ignores the fact that criminal illegal immigrants and the drug cartels for whom some of them work, are aware of San Francisco's former sanctuary loophole and have taken to falsely claiming juvenile status as a result. Still, others argue that police departments need to work with illegal immigrants in the community in order to effectively tackle crime and that fears of deportation get in the way. But extending the current, chaotic state of affairs will only lead to further crime and misery, even for those within such communities.

While San Francisco's sanctuary city ordinance may have been well-intentioned, it has resulted in an untenable and anarchic situation that is taking its toll on city residents and surrounding counties alike. Providing sanctuary for law-breakers at the expense of law-abiding citizens is neither a compassionate nor a moral approach. The issue is not one of callousness towards illegal immigrants, but rather, the duty owed American citizens by their government. In some respects, every layer of the government has failed this test, but in this case, it's the local government that is absconding on its duties. And all San Francisco officials can seem to offer up is more of the same.

They don't call it the Wild West for nothing. ... llwell.DTL