Longtime San Francisco resident Bill Ong Hing has spent much of his career in front of students or working on immigrant rights issues in front of judges.
Now, the University of San Francisco law professor and well-known immigration rights lawyer will fill The City’s vacant Police Commission seat and bring decades of experience to the position.
Hing’s legal work has centered on civil rights through the lens of immigration, and he will most likely play a big role in negotiating how police in San Francisco operate under a Donald Trump presidency.
“I read his work before I ever met him,” said judge-elect and former Police Commissioner Victor Hwang, who is succeeded by Hing. “I’ve never really practiced immigration law, but he made it very clear that immigration rights are solidly in civil rights.”
The 67-year-old professor grew up in a small copper-mining town in Arizona. His was the only Asian family, which ran at least one store named the Spring Garden Grocery along with the help of their 10 children. Hing recalls the 5,000-person town, named Superior, as a mostly welcoming place where his father O.C. Hing was elected to office.
“He was kind of like sheriff of Mayberry,” said Hing, who spoke Cantonese at home and learned Spanish among Superior’s Latino population.
Aside from the detention of both his parents on Angel Island in the early 20th century and normal immigrant fears of deportation, little of Hing’s personal experience was responsible for his eventual work in the field. His mother was born in the U.S. but grew up in Guangdong, where his father was from.
In 1967, Hing came to the Bay Area as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley to study psychology.
“I was very anxious to leave small-town Arizona,” Hing said.
He came to the Bay Area at a time of student unrest and political upheaval. Although he was not a student protest leader, he was influenced by the changes afoot, especially the newly minted Asian studies classes.
As soon as he graduated, Hing began law school in 1971 at USF while his not-yet wife and city native, Lenora Fung, studied medicine. “She is a full-fledged San Franciscan,” he said.
When not studying, he performed legal volunteer work with immigrants in Chinatown and the Mission.
“Once I started working in legal aid in Chinatown, I fell in love with community lawyering because you can make a difference so quickly, even as a law student,” he said.
Upon graduation, he wanted to specialize in helping low-income tenants, but the only job open at the legal defense outfit where he had been volunteering was centered on immigration.
Hing’s career eventually led him to teaching posts at UC Davis, among other locations, and he penned a book, ‘’To Be an American: Cultural Pluralism and the Rhetoric of Assimilation.”
He also worked on several important immigrant rights cases.
The most notable was a 1987 precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court asylum case, INS v. Cardoza–Fonseca. It set the standard for asylum seekers: Any reasonable person who fears prosecution should get asylum.
He also worked on the case of an undocumented man who passed the state bar as well as that of a Eddy Zheng, who Hing helped get a governor’s pardon three years ago.
Hing said he has always been interested in civil rights and hopes to play a part in ongoing police reforms. But his civil rights work around immigration will be needed more than ever, he added, under a Trump presidency.
“I am very interested bringing immigration issues into police reform,” said Hing. “I haven’t done it day-to-day, but civil rights and human rights are what I have lived and practiced my professional career.”
It remains to be seen how his addition to the commission will alter the group.
Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the Public Defender’s Office, who has known Hing for years, said Hing is possibly the most qualified legal mind to sit on the commission and will bring those years of experience to the table.
“Anyone who thinks that he’s going to be somebody’s pawn is greatly mistaken,” Gonzalez said. “He’ll be his own man.”
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