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What we need is more sanctuary for criminal illegal aliens


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Panel urges S.F. to help teen immigrant felons

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

(08-18) 18:55 PDT -- A San Francisco city commission has taken a defiant stand against Mayor Gavin Newsom's directive on young immigrant felons by urging officials to permit the offenders to remain in the city and help pay for their housing, job placement services and immigration lawyers.

Newsom announced last month - in an attempt to quell a growing controversy involving San Francisco's sanctuary city policy - that the city would no longer shield young illegal immigrant felony offenders from federal authorities for possible deportation.

Three weeks later, the city's little-known, 15-member Immigrant Rights Commission approved a resolution that ran counter to the mayor's directive, urging the city to let young immigrant offenders stay in the city. The commission advises the Board of Supervisors and mayor about issues involving immigrants.

It called on San Francisco to pay nonprofit community groups to screen juvenile offenders to determine whether they should be entitled to city-paid immigration attorneys who would help them seek asylum as victims of abandonment, trafficking or abuse.

It also urged the city to provide adequate resources for placing the youths in "culturally appropriate" community programs approved by the juvenile court system, a policy that federal prosecutors have said was akin to harboring illegal immigrants.

And it advised the city to develop and expand safe housing, jobs and other opportunities for unaccompanied immigrant youth "because these youth are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by adult criminals."

Decision is up to the mayor

The three-page resolution, which was sent to the mayor and the Board of Supervisors for possible action, did not mention Newsom's new policy.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said the mayor appreciated the commission's input but "has directed the juvenile probation department in no uncertain terms" to turn over juvenile felons to federal immigration authorities.

"Ultimately, the decisions must be made by the mayor, and that is where the buck stops," Ballard said.

Newsom announced his new policy July 2 after The Chronicle reported that federal officials had warned the city that it was illegally providing offenders free flights home and paying for them to live in group homes outside the city in lieu of deportation and that several had fled from unlocked group homes.

Two days earlier, Newsom said he had no direct authority to order the change but then reversed course as the controversy grew. Since then, according to Newsom's aides, the mayor's office has been doing a "top-to-bottom" review of San Francisco's practices and programs under the sanctuary law.

The Immigrant Rights Commission, made up of 11 members appointed by the Board of Supervisors and four by the mayor, approved the resolution on July 21, by 13 to 1. The dissenting vote was cast by a local developer, Angus McCarthy, who was unavailable for comment. The chairman did not vote.

"This is our position, the position the commission took," said commission Chairman Jamal Dajani. "The mayor can accept it or not, that is his prerogative."

But, Dajani said, changing the policy as Newsom did risks the whole notion of a sanctuary city.

"Are we a sanctuary city, are we not a sanctuary city?" he said. "We shouldn't make knee-jerk reactions or abrupt decisions. We need to have a healthy discussion."

Aaron Peskin, president of the Board of Supervisors, called the resolution "entirely advisory." He would not comment Monday about the content of the resolution, saying he had not seen it.

Suspect spared deportation

The commission took its action the day after The Chronicle reported that Edwin Ramos, 21, suspected in the June 22 slayings of Anthony Bologna and his two sons, Michael and Matthew, had committed two violent offenses when he was 17 but was spared from deportation to his native El Salvador under the city's sanctuary policies. Ramos is in custody in connection with the three slayings.

Ramos was identified by police as a member of a violent street gang, MS-13. He had committed an assault and attempted robbery as a 17-year-old. Each time, he was reunited with family living in the city and spared deportation.

It is unclear how his case would be handled under the commission's resolution, but the commission urged that undocumented immigrant offenders, "where appropriate," be reunited "with their family and in their community in San Francisco."

In its resolution, the commission reasoned that the youthful immigrants to the United States are often left without parents and had suffered hardships, including trauma, abuse, neglect and abandonment, and should be entitled to seek asylum.

The juvenile courts, not the federal government, should dictate how the offenders are handled, the commission said.

Dajani said he did not vote because of his role as the presiding commissioner over the hearing. However, he said he supported the resolution.

"We are saying we should treat juveniles as juveniles regardless of their status," he said. "We had a hearing, we had a roomful of different organizations representing various immigrant groups from people dealing with juvenile law."

He said the Ramos case has drawn a lot of attention.

"What happened in that unfortunate murder case created a lot of political debate, but, in the end, you cannot make a blanket policy to treat all juveniles the same," he said. "We shouldn't be punishing everyone because of one case, where we had a breakdown in the system."

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


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