BY SUSAN FERRISS
The Sacramento Bee
In California, the word “sanctuary” prompts talk of Edwin Ramos, a 22-year-old Salvadoran accused of a brutal triple murder last year.
Ramos journeyed illegally to San Francisco at 13, did time at juvenile hall for two felonies but was not deported – an oversight city and federal officials blame on one another.
Tony Bologna and his 20-year-old son, Michael, pictured left, were slain
in their car June 22, 2008, in San Francisco, by Edwin Ramos
after Ramos had done time at Juvenile Hall.
The city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, reacted to the case by issuing an order in 2008 that any undocumented juvenile felony suspect – not just those convicted – be reported to immigration agents.
That has led him to a standoff with the Board of Supervisors and prompted a new debate over sanctuary cities.
The term “sanctuary city” is used as shorthand to describe any city that doesn’t allow city staff or police to ask people about their status or report them to immigration authorities – with exceptions for suspected criminal activity and when state and federal law requires it.
Since the 1970s, many cities have adopted such policies, responding to complaints from Latino citizens about harassment and police chiefs who believe it better to encourage immigrant communities to trust police and report crime.
The list of these cities is now quite long nationwide and in California, and includes Fresno, Sacramento and San Jose. But many of these same cities work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in multi-jurisdictional crime task forces, and coordinate with the agency to detain crime suspects.
Immigration officials have the right to enter county jails and check status, and deputies can summon federal agents to check a suspect they believe could be an illegal immigrant. Local police departments typically transfer suspects they arrest to county jails.
San Francisco has reported many undocumented adult felons that land in county jails to the federal government, according to Newsom.
But Newsom faced scathing criticism with revelations last year, following Ramos’ arrest, that some juvenile probation officers had tried to rehabilitate minors for years by quietly escorting youths on city paid flights to Honduras, bypassing immigration officials.
Newsom said he was unaware of the practice, that it was wrong, and issued his order to report juvenile suspects to immigration authorities.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos also called the flights to Honduras wrong. But he said the mayor’s order takes away due process for juveniles, and he led an 8-2 vote by supervisors on Oct. 20 to amend Newsom’s order to apply only to convicted minors.
Newsom vetoed the amendment last month, even though the supervisors’ votes were enough to override him, and he warned their action would violate federal immigration laws.
San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance was passed in 1989, and was originally a show of support for Central American illegal immigrants fleeing war.
Twenty years later, Newsom has called for the federal government to legalize some of today’s undocumented – he’s attended rallies with Irish illegal immigrants – and has welcomed them to join the city’s ID program and its health care plan.
But Campos makes no apologies for challenging Newsom. He sees himself in the many teens who attended hearings on the sanctuary debate and who were brought to this country by parents.
His parents fled war-torn Guatemala in the 1980s when hewas13. They were illegal immigrants, but eventually became legal through his father’s employer, a rare avenue to legal status open today.
“I’m representative of a lot of people,” said Campos, who attended Stanford and Harvard Law School. “You do your homework. You stay in school. You try to do everything right.”
Sterling Norris, for 32 years a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, said he thinks it’s wrong to continue to block local police from taking action against illegal immigrants.
Nowa private attorney, Norris and the conservative Judicial Watch group filed suit in 2006 challenging the legality of a 1979 city order in LosAngeles that restricts police from initiating inquiries into status.
“Law enforcement starts with the local cop, not the FBI or other fancy federal agencies,” Norris said. Cops need more latitude, he said, to fight crime by illegal immigrants.
The California Court of Appeal ruled against Norris this year, but he plans an appeal.
Los Angeles does not use the term “sanctuary” to describe its restriction on cops.
Recently retired Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton defended the policy in a piece in the Los Angeles Times as one key to public safety.
“The order prohibits LAPD officers from initiating contact with someone solely to determine whether they are in the country legally. The philosophy that underlies that policy is simple: Criminals are the biggest benefactors when immigrants fear the police,” he wrote. “We can’t solve crimes that aren’t reported because the victims are afraid to come forward.”
Bratton has said police use information from immigration agents in investigations.
When suspects are transferred to jails run by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, certain trained deputies are using databases to check suspects.
Checks failed to stop the release last year, however, of a gang member with a juvenile record who is now accused of killing a local teen.
The department, along with San Diego’s, started using a more comprehensive fingerprint system in May to identify suspects who have records of immigration violations.
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