In the wake of the tragic homicide of Kathryn Steinle, many have debated the wisdom of San Francisco’s Sanctuary City Ordinance, citing the importance of having immigrant victims and witnesses of crime participate in our criminal justice system. In the abstract, it is difficult to see how any policy can be defended in the face of such a senseless death.
As an organization whose mission for 40 years has been to work with both victims of crime and immigrants, our heart goes out to the Steinle family. At the same time, we have seen how the Sanctuary City Ordinance has worked and caution against those who would seize this opportunity to attack a carefully considered policy, which has been repeatedly endorsed by law enforcement as a tool that makes our communities safer as a whole.
In two cases where our staff has been directly involved, we have seen how the sanctuary ordinance has worked to make our city a safer place.
An elderly client came to the U.S. legally in the 1990s to work and provide for her family. For more than 20 years, she was forced to work as a domestic servant for very little pay. She could not leave the house where she worked and was told that if she did she would be deported. She was a victim of human trafficking.
After escaping her traffickers and learning she would be safe if she came forward in 2012, she reported her trafficking to the San Francisco Police Department, armed with the assurance that she would not be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for doing so.
On Nov. 10, 2010, two hard-working undocumented Mayan dishwashers were walking in the Tenderloin when they were jumped by white supremacists. After they were stomped unconscious amidst screams of “White Power,” they provided false names and addresses to the police out of fear they would be arrested and deported.
It was only after the police tracked them to the hospital and informed them they would be protected under the Sanctuary City Ordinance that they agreed to cooperate and helped to secure felony convictions against members of this violent group.
These are only a few examples of what we see on a daily basis working with survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and elder abuse.
Before we heed calls to discard a good policy, it is important to understand the Sanctuary City Ordinance is not what prevented the sheriff from complying with the immigration detainer (governed by the California TRUST Act), nor what prevented the sheriff from notifying immigration authorities of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez’ release. In fact, the sanctuary ordinance specifically allows law enforcement to notify ICE in the case of a previously convicted felon.
The regulation of our nation’s borders falls within the purview of the federal government. The duty of a city is to serve and keep safe all those who reside within its borders. The longstanding policy of San Francisco to encourage all of its residents to participate in the fabric of society is a good one, one that keeps as safer as individuals and stronger as a society.
Leah Chen Price is the director of API Legal Outreach’s Anti-Human Trafficking Project and a member of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission. Victor Hwang is the deputy director of API Legal Outreach and a member of the San Francisco Police Commission.