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Immigration measure stirs debate in San Francisco

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-07-23 10:01

A number of advocacy groups in the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday issued a statement opposing proposed legislation aimed at deported undocumented immigrants who re-enter the United States illegally.

The legislation, known as "Kate's Law", has been introduced in the US Congress after Kathryn Steinle, a 32-year-old Bay Area resident, was shot dead on July 1 as she and her father walked on San Francisco's Pier 14.

The man charged in her death, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, is an undocumented immigrant who has several felony convictions and had been deported from the United States five previous times before the shooting.

The father testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, asking Congress to reform laws that currently allow local authorities to decide if they will cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Under legislation proposed by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the minimum mandatory penalty for re-entry would be five years in prison.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who co-chaired the committee hearing, proposed a bill that would require state and local governments to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they are about to release undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a felony, provided the agency has asked for such notification about a particular person.

Feinstein urged San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to join the Department of Homeland Security's new initiative, the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP).

In San Francisco, which is a "sanctuary city" for immigrants, city employees are barred from inquiring into or disclosing a person's immigration status without a warrant or court order. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are proposing withholding some forms of funding from the sanctuary cities.

"Sadly, some elected officials in Washington, DC, have sought to use the actions of one person … to criminalize and scapegoat whole communities, says the statement. "We call for a respectful dialogue that looks at all facets of the tragedy and to develop thoughtful solutions that include the voices of all community members, including immigrants."

"Immigration policy must consider all of the factors involved in each case," said Grace Lee, policy director of Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), which also signed the statement. "We should not develop new enforcement policies based on extreme examples."

She called Steinle's death a "terrible tragedy" but said it was not representative of the larger immigrant community.

"We should not respond drastically in a way that would harm hundreds of thousands of immigrants," she said.

Under PEP, ICE plans to issue notification requests to ask local law enforcement for release dates and other information about individuals they are interested in detaining and deporting, according to Saira Hussain, staff attorney for the Criminal Justice Reform Program with Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus (ALC), one of the groups who issued the statement.

"ICE has not been transparent about the details of this program, including when it will be rolled out," she told China Daily.

The groups said they are that notification to ICE will reduce confidence among the diverse and large immigrant community in local law enforcement, thereby harming public safety for everyone.

"If police officers start to work with immigration enforcement again, we will have immigrants who are victims of crimes but who will never report them," Lee told China Daily. "They may witness a crime and be too fearful to call the police."

"Ultimately, we are all safer when immigrants can trust police officers and when immigrants can feel comfortable reporting crimes without the threat of deportation or police collaboration with ICE," she said.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has said that the sanctuary policy allows for a better, less strenuous relationship between immigrant populations and law enforcement, and that immigrants in the country illegally can be key informants and witnesses if they don't fear deportation.

The statement also noted that in practice, letting deportation agents know when a community member is about to be released after serving time will lead to survivors of crimes, such as domestic violence victims who are wrongfully arrested, being turned over for deportation.

In addition, community members who may have older convictions and been long since rehabilitated and are contributing members of the community will be at risk of double punishment and separation from their families, the statement said.

However, some rights groups favor the legislation.

"The Civil Rights Club", a Chinese-American group that says it will "fight for the freedom for our people", likens the sanctuary city policy to "setting the wolf to keep the sheep".

"The worst traitors are those … letting wolves into the house and expecting the wolves to help them win votes, at the sacrifice of innocent, law-abiding citizens," the group said in a Chinese language article sent to its subscribers on July 9 via WeChat, the Chinese mobile social network.

The group did not respond to China Daily's request for comment.

"It is wrong," said Grace Lee, referring to the comments. "Here in San Francisco, CAA and other community advocates are working with elected officials to be thoughtful about the real issue of public safety.

"We think it is absolutely critical for elected officials to think carefully about the true public safety consequences of our immigration policies," she said.

ICE could not be reached for comment.


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