Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed Sunday to maintain San Francisco as a sanctuary for immigrants and do everything he can to discourage federal authorities from conducting immigration raids.
The mayor cannot stop federal authorities from making arrests, Newsom told about 300 mostly Latino members of St. Peter's Church and other religious groups supporting immigrants. But no San Francisco employee will help with immigration enforcement.
"I will not allow any of my department heads or anyone associated with this city to cooperate in any way shape or form with these raids," Newsom declared. "We are a sanctuary city, make no mistake about it."
The Board of Supervisors first declared San Francisco a "sanctuary city" in 1989. The designation, which many U.S. cities across the country took on during the 1980s, has no legal meaning.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have since May 2006 conducted raids across the country, including arrests in San Rafael, Oakland, Richmond, San Pablo, Santa Clara and other cities across the Bay area. Immigration officials have said they were executing arrest warrants for immigrants who had committed crimes or were in the country illegally and had ignored final deportation orders.
In the course of serving deportation warrants, the officials said, other people whom officers suspected of being illegal immigrants were questioned and then arrested. Of at least 65 Marin County residents arrested in March, for example, just five had been ordered deported.
The raids, many of which conducted at private homes before dawn and some of which caught up legal immigrants and even citizens, have created an uproar in the Bay Area. Politicians and community leaders have demanded they end, saying some immigrants parents are now afraid to send their children to school or leave home.
Immigration agents on Friday arrested 13 foreign nationals who were working illegally at Eagle Bag Corp. in Oakland, a packaging manufacturer whose clients include the U.S. military. The arrests there of immigrants suspected of using counterfeit documents to obtain jobs were not related to the recent raids.
San Rafael Mayor Al Boro in March called on California's U.S. senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, to push the immigration agency to change how it is enforcing immigration law because he believed children were the ones being hurt.
Marches and rallies are planned in coming weeks in Redwood City, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and other cities.
Porfirio Quintano was one of those who pleaded with Newsom, Senator Carole Migden and Assemblyman Mark Leno during Sunday's meeting to do what they can to make San Francisco safe for immigrants.
The 42-year-old immigrant from Honduras said his Richmond home was raided in 2003 by federal immigration agents based on what turned out to be bad information.
"We are victims," said Quintano, adding that his wife and two daughters, then ages 4 and 10, live in fear of another raid, even though they are in the country legally. "They were looking for somebody unrelated to us, but they lined us up against the wall and held us for an hour. It was terrifying, especially for our daughters."
Newsom, Migden and Leno all vowed to work with other cities and legislators to put a stop to what they said was blatant intimidation of immigrants. "Our action is to stand strong in opposition to these raids... to make sure that we are not contributing in any way, shape or form," Newsom said. "Even legal immigrants are fearful. This just sends a chill to a lot of people. There are a lot of cities that want these raids. That's where the federal government should be spending their time."
Newsom pledges to make SF a sanctuary for illegal immigrants