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Friday, June 04, 2004

NCM > San Francisco's Status as Immigrant Sanctuary Tested

NCM > San Francisco's Status as Immigrant Sanctuary Tested

San Francisco's Status as Immigrant Sanctuary Tested
El Tecolote, News Report,
R.M. Arrieta, Jun 03, 2004

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, led by the heavily Latino Mission District’s Tom Ammiano, overwhelmingly condemned an early May raid by federal agents in which seven Mexicans and two East Indians were deported.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has two weeks to override or ratify the 10-0 vote resolution taken May 25, which re-emphasizes San Francisco’s status as a city of refuge established six years ago.

On May 6, around 6:30 a.m. and just one day after Cinco de Mayo
celebrations, federal agents entered the Hotel Sunrise residential hotel in the Mission District. They were there to detain a resident who had allegedly violated his immigration orders to leave the country.

“They were looking for one person. They knew where to find him,” said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), formerly the INS. She added: “This individual was not a criminal but he still had final removal orders. He was from India and he was apprehended.” Haley would not give the detainee’s name.

Although the agents caught their man, they didn’t stop there. As residents bustled through the lobby to head to work, agents started pressing them for their legal status. When it was all over, agents had swept up the seven Mexican nationals and two East Indians.

Within a few hours all but one of the Mexican immigrants had signed a voluntary deportation notice, according to Nick Pagoulatos of St. Peter’s Housing, an immigrant rights organization. The one individual who asked for a hearing, Pagoulatos said, was also deported.

“This whole thing is troubling in that the scope of the investigation was exceeded when they (the agents) decided to remain in the hotel,” Pagoulatos said. “They decided to start snatching people up based on racial profiling.”

Pagoulatos’ agency was contacted by several tenants whose relatives had been picked up that morning.

The early morning raid had a chilling affect on the immigrant community, which has felt safe in San Francisco because of its sanctuary status.

“I’m scared. I moved from the hotel,” said 21-year-old Carlos Lopez (not his real name), whose father, cousin and a friend were interrogated as they were heading to work. The dishwashers were taken into custody and deported to Mexico.

“They asked me for my ID, too, and they realized he was my dad,” Lopez said.

When ICE spokeswoman Haley was asked about the racial profiling allegations, as well as agent tactics to gather citizenship status from the tenants, she said: “I cannot respond to allegations. I know they can ask people for documentation.”

She added: “‘Sweep is the wrong word to use. They target someone and they don’t know that other groups of people will be there. Don’t you think if you find one illegal alien there’s a possibility there will be others?”

The raid did not escape the attention of Supervisor Ammiano, who on May 18 introduced a resolution co-sponsored by Supervisor Chris Daly –- in whose part of the Mission District the raids took place -– condemning the agents’ actions.

The resolution urges the FBI and ICE not to waste its valuable resources targeting hardworking immigrants, and that it provide legal counsel and a court hearing before any deportations are made.

Said Ammiano: “Although the feds do pre-empt our sanctuary laws here, in the past we’ve been able to hold them at bay, not well enough, but by not cooperating with them. I’ve had meetings in the past with the head of INS, and that’s something we might do, we could also have a hearing on it. Until we can get that law changed, the more we make our position known as a sanctuary city and protest these actions, I think it will have some effect.”

San Francisco is considered a sanctuary city, which means that city officials will not cooperate with immigration authorities. But there’s one exception. If a citizen makes a call to a federal agency to a report an alleged illegal immigrant, that federal agency can investigate the case.

In this most recent case, agents entered the hotel under the auspices of “Operation Endgame.” The operation is an effort to reduce the number of foreign nationals who have been ordered removed by a federal immigration judge, but who have failed to show up to immigration to be deported.

Since they have already been through immigration proceedings, the nationals are subject to immediate removal from the country.

Said Daly: “San Francisco is a city of refuge. These kind of raids should not be happening anywhere in the city. The Hotel Sunrise in particular is not only home to low-income adults but to many low-income families seeking refuge from homelessness. It is unacceptable that these vulnerable families would have to deal with something like this.”

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