San Francisco’s District Attorney should lead the resistance to the Trump administration’s xenophobic and anti-immigrant agenda.
The DA runs, in essence, one of the city’s largest public interest law firms, responsible for mobilizing an army of lawyers toward a primary goal: public safety. But when we exclude entire immigrant communities from the public safety equation our city is less safe and less just. Make no mistake: Immigrants are under attack, nationwide and in San Francisco. It is past time for law enforcement to step up.
In San Francisco, 34 percent of households are headed by an immigrant, and more than 20 percent of residents have limited English proficiency. Contrary to the disinformation coming from Washington, immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to commit crimes and more likely to be victims.
As recently as 2013, when a person without legal status in the country was jailed, the San Francisco Sheriff would deliver them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation, even if no criminal charges were ever filed. Like so many San Franciscans, I knew that policy was unjust and undermined public safety by instilling an entire community with a deep-seated fear and distrust of the police, making them less likely to report crimes and come to court to testify. So I worked to change it.
As a public defender in December 2012, I represented an elderly Salvadoran woman charged with shoplifting—Christmas presents for her grandchildren. Her kids and grandkids were U.S. Citizens. Her husband was a union tradesman. And still, everyone involved—the prosecutor, the judge, the Sheriff’s deputies, the other public defenders, the immigration advocates—understood that no matter the outcome of her case, she would be delivered to ICE and likely deported. That collateral consequence was grossly disproportionate, draconian. The cooperation between San Francisco law enforcement and ICE, which was the norm at the time, was also, in my view, illegal and undermined public safety.
I begged my client to be patient in jail while her family and I tried to find a path home. Together with her daughter, Angela Chan at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and other leaders in the immigration advocacy community, we formed a team that persuaded the Sheriff to lift the ICE hold. In one of my happiest moments as a public defender, our client was released to her family.
Then we did it again, and again. In early 2013, I drafted a policy for the Sheriff prohibiting cooperation with ICE. A few months later the Board of Supervisors passed San Francisco’s Due Process for All Sanctuary City Policy, prohibiting the same.
These policies, and the sanctuary city ideal that underlies them, stem from a recognition that immigrants deserve the full protection of local law enforcement. Today, more than ever, when each racist, xenophobic policy emanating from Washington is worse than the last, San Francisco must lead the resistance. We must protect our immigrant communities. That’s why as District Attorney, I pledge to establish an Immigration Unit with a mandate to proactively resist the Trump administration. We’ll protect immigrant rights, whether victims or defendants, and enhance public safety for all in the process.
The Immigration Unit will have five core functions, each designed to enhance our commitment to justice and public safety.
First, we will help every immigrant victim of crime obtain a U-Visa so they may be eligible to remain in the United States. Second, we’ll build trust with immigrant communities to enhance access to justice and reporting of crimes. Third, the Unit will help non-citizens accused of crimes avoid collateral consequences that they suffer solely because of their immigration status. Fourth, the Unit will advocate for universal legal representation for people facing deportation. Under current federal law, infants can be forced to represent themselves in deportation proceedings—the law is a disgrace and San Francisco should make sure it does not happen to our children. Fifth, the Immigration Unit will investigate and prosecute crimes ICE agents commit against members of the community, which include illegal arrests, racial profiling, child endangerment, kidnapping, and even human trafficking.
There are those who think that resisting the Trump administration means focusing on federal elections and policy. But our immigrant communities know that we are not doing enough to protect them from Trump, and, as a result, public safety is suffering city-wide. Practically and morally, San Francisco is well-positioned to lead the resistance. We don’t need to wait for the 2020 election to step up for the immigrant community. The time to take action is now.
Chesa Boudin is a deputy public defender and candidate for San Francisco District Attorney.