San Francisco to Halt 'Sanctuary' Policy

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 3, 2008

LOS ANGELES, July 2 -- San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that the city would begin handing over for deportation juvenile illegal immigrants with drug convictions, reversing a controversial policy of flying the youths back to their home countries at the city's expense.

The flights, rooted in a 1989 ordinance declaring the city a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants, ceased this spring after the U.S. attorney threatened to prosecute officials for harboring criminals.

About the same time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained a city probation official in the Houston airport along with two Honduran juveniles the official was putting on a plane to Tegucigalpa, the capital.

"Which means that San Francisco for all intents and purposes is running its own department of immigration," said Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney for San Francisco. "It's had its own foreign policy, so having its own immigration policy is the next step."

Newsome took responsibility for the embarrassment Wednesday, a day after the controversy overshadowed the popular Democrat's announcement that he's considering running for the governor's seat when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's term expires in 2010.

"We're going to fix this," Newsom said.

The controversy, coming in a presidential election campaign in which polls show immigration ranks high as an incendiary issue, highlighted starkly different perspectives both on immigration and on notions of victimhood.

City probation officials described the juvenile offenders in achingly sympathetic terms, emphasizing the chain of circumstances that led to them selling crack cocaine on the streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin district.

"These kids have really been victimized, most of our clients," said Patricia Lee, who manages the public defender office for juvenile court. "They come from incredibly dire circumstances. Their families are starving."

Lee said drug lords sometimes promise the youths construction jobs in California, then force them into "slave labor" retailing drugs. "They're not murderers, they're not rapists," she said. "They're trying to survive and their families live under threat of harm.

"We have a duty to defend these kids, zealously."

A similar emphasis on compassion underpins the sanctuary ordinance, which bars San Francisco officials from cooperating with federal immigration officials to deport undocumented immigrants.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company