Protecting Undocumented Youth

By Guest Columnist Aug 21, 2009

By Nina Jacinto This post originally appeared on Wiretap. San Francisco Chronicle writers Marisa Lagos and John Coté have reported on new proposed legislation that may help protect undocumented youth in the city. The law would require that minors suspected of felonies must be convicted before being handed over to federal immigration authorities. Unless the suspect is charged as an adult, immigration authorities would no longer be contacted at the time of the suspected felon’s arrest.

Historically, San Francisco has been considered one of the more liberal cities in the country with regards to providing refuge for undocumented immigrants. In 1989, the City of Refuge ordinance was created in response to individuals who were seeking asylum from Central American civil wars: it stated that San Francisco officials and police were not obligated to refer undocumented residents to federal immigration authorities. Then, in 2008, the city’s policy made national headlines when Edwin Ramos, 22, was arrested and charged with murdering three people. Those opposed to the sanctuary ordinance, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, believe that had Ramos’ information been passed onto federal immigration authorities when he was first charged with attempted robbery and assault as a minor in 2003, the murders would have been avoided. And so Newsom revised the policy, forcing police officials to hand over information about suspected criminals, including youth, to immigration authorities.

Supervisor David Campos noted the benefit of the new proposed amendment:

"This is a carefully drafted piece of legislation that in a very measured way strikes the balance between two extremes: the prior extreme of never reporting anybody to immigration authorities when laws were broken and the other extreme of the existing policy, which in a very reactionary way reports children the moment they are booked for something they may or may not have done"

Indeed, there seems to be more of a balance to this amendment, as it recognizes that minors need to be charged and convicted of crimes differently than adults. Furthermore, it lessons the tension and fear that exists between police and suspected undocumented criminals – there’s no longer the threat of having one’s family divided for example, until a minor has been charged for the crime he is suspected of. The new policy would also hopefully help to decrease the racial profiling that seems to be a consequence of the current situation.

Small steps in providing justice and human rights to young people suspected of crimes is important – individuals who blame the new amendment for somehow protecting criminals need to step back and examine the larger system of violence and crime that exists in the area. Giving undocumented youth protection against immigration authorities until they are convicted ensures that we aren’t treating all suspected young people as criminals.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons user: FogCityFog