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Showing up to preserve our city

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Protesters stand outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Feb. 7 while the court hears arguments regarding President Donald Trump’s travel ban. (Courtesy agenzia32.com/Shutterstock)

Last Thursday, hundreds of local businesses and restaurants never opened, and many students stayed home as part of the “Day Without Immigrants” nationwide action. It was the kind of grassroots protest
that those opposed to the anti-immigrant, fear-mongering actions of President Donald Trump and his already compromised administration must keep staging, sharing and participating in.

So far in this action-packed and terrifying new era, the forces dedicated to opposing the president have proved up to the task, with the Women’s Marches, airport protests and last week’s Day Without Immigrants action. People have shown up. Social media can help organize, but it can not carry the weight of change.

In this moment, sharing is not caring. Only getting out into the streets, going to City Hall, showing up for democracy in the face of this lunacy, is caring.

And the need will not abate. Trump has promised to announce a new version of a travel ban this week.

Maintaining civil society depends on citizen engagement, sound and serious journalism and a dedicated army of public servants. We are fortunate, here in San Francisco, to have the people, journalists and elected officials who, although by no means agree on much, are by and large invested in and dedicated to protecting and preserving our civil society, our city and its long-held values of openness and inclusion.

But, still, the path forward isn’t always clear, and sometimes the details catch us up. On Thursday — as workers and students gave the nation a glimpse of life without immigrants — hundreds came to San Francisco City Hall to support a proposal to increase funding for legal defense of detained undocumented immigrants in The City.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, after hours of discussion in the overflowing chambers, decided to postpone a decision on the matter for at least two weeks. Arguing for immediate action, Public Defender Jeff Adachi spoke about the dire need to respond to Trump’s threats of mass deportations.

After the election, Mayor Ed Lee and the board approved a $1.5 million boost for legal defense by nonprofits. Adachi is seeking $5 million to fund 17 new positions, 10 of which would be attorneys, to handle up to 600 cases a year.

Adachi’s proposal deserves careful consideration. The City has a duty to protect and care for the most vulnerable among its inhabitants, especially in light of federal threats and incursions against their rights and livelihoods. Even with the delay, which some called a setback for proposal, the right questions are being asked. If we demur and disagree on the tactics, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re on opposing sides.

As the San Francisco Examiner reported last week, of the approximately 1,500 immigrants detained locally last year for deportation proceedings, two-thirds had no legal representation. “This is a crisis that has existed for a while and we are trying to address it before it gets worse,” Adachi said. “We know that it is going to get worse.”

Mayor Lee told the Examiner that San Francisco is committed to protecting its immigrants, pointing to the $1.5 million boost to immigration defense. He said he would “continue that dialogue” over Adachi’s proposal. That’s good news since it’s an important conversation The City needs to be having.

But Lee also cautioned some resources must be saved for unseen needs in these uncertain times. It was a sensible and ominous warning, fitting for these new times, especially in light of Trump’s promise of some new travel ban this week.

As much as we, as a city, have our target in our sights, it’s wise to keep an eye out for what else may be coming. We must remain vigilant, and we must keep showing up for our city and for one another.

Michael Howerton is editor in chief of the San Francisco Examiner.

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