New San Francisco Ordinance Keeps the City From Cooperating With Any Religion-Based Registry

By Deepa Iyer Mar 22, 2017

Yesterday (March 21), San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed the “Non-Cooperation with Identity-Based Registry" an ordinance that prohibits the city from using its resources, funds, or personnel to create, implement, or help enforce government programs that would require people to register on the basis of religion, national origin or ethnicity. It also prevents the city from using its funds to create a database that categorizes people based on these factors.

A Bay Area coalition of Arab, Asian, Muslim, South Asian and civil liberties groups pushed for the ordinance in the wake of statements that President Donald Trump made during and after his campaign advocating for policies such as extreme vetting and registering people based on religion or national origin. The San Francisco ordinance offers a direct rebuke to the executive orders that Trump passed on January 27 and March 6 to limit travel from select Muslim-majority countries and freeze refugee admissions.

"Our coalition anticipated that the Trump administration would deliver on its campaign promise to register Muslims. The anti-registry ordinance draws from lessons learned from the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which was effectively a Muslim registry from 2003 to 2012, and the lesson of the U.S. Census Bureau providing data to advance the wrongful incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII in concentration camps," says Elica Vafaie, national security and civil rights attorney at Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. "That’s why the San Francisco ordinance includes language to prohibit using SF city data, personnel or resources to help create a discriminatory registry or database. Should the administration attempt to use local data or local resources to advance a discriminatory registry, San Francisco will be protected." 

Advocates in the Bay Area say that the anti-registry ordinance is the first of its kind to be passed in the nation. Vafaie says they hope it will help localities considering sanctuary declarations.

The Colorado state legislature is contemplating a bill that includes non-cooperation with immigration enforcement and a refusal to participate in database collection on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status or faith. Whether the federal government will intervene in non-cooperation localities remains to be seen. This week, the Department of Homeland Security began to publish information about localities that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as required under President Trump’s immigration executive order issued on January 25.

The San Francisco anti-registry ordinance will go into effect on April 20, 2017. The coalition that worked on it includes Americans Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, the San Francisco Bay Area of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, the National Lawyers Guild-Bay Area, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.