My city is going to be better really soon now..
S.F. shift: Illegal immigrant offenders to be handed to feds
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Printable VersionEmail This Article del.icio.us
(249) Georgia (default)
Times New Roman
S.F. Shielding Immigrants
S.F. shifts policy on convicted felons (7/02)
Newsom: Court has final say (7/02)
8 crack dealers in S.F. walk away (7/01)
Probe into migrant- offender protection (6/29)
(07-02) 14:39 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today that the city will start turning over juvenile illegal immigrants convicted of felonies to federal authorities for possible deportation, and took the blame for what he admitted was a costly and misguided effort to shield the youths.
Newsom said he hadn't known until recently that the city was keeping the juvenile offenders from deportation as part of its sanctuary-city policy, but that "ignorance is no defense."
"All I can say is, I can't explain away the past," Newsom said. "I take responsibility, I take it. We are moving in a different direction."
The issue had cast a shadow over Newsom's announcement this week that he was exploring a run for governor in 2010. National media coverage of the mayor has focused not on his political ambitions in recent days, but on Chronicle revelations that his city was harboring illegal immigrant youths who had been convicted of dealing crack on the streets.
"We're going to fix this," Newsom said.
He revealed that the cost to San Francisco taxpayers of shielding the offenders has been high. The city has spent $2.3 million just to house illegal immigrants in juvenile hall rather than turning them over to federal authorities since 2005, the year he appointed his current juvenile probation director, William Siffermann.
San Francisco has also flown an undisclosed number of Honduran juvenile drug dealers back to their homeland, allowing them to avoid deportation proceedings that could have resulted in their being barred from ever returning to the United States. The city halted the practice in May after federal authorities pointed out that it was a crime to help illegal immigrants cross the border.
With the flights grounded, the Juvenile Probation Department recommended that the city place the illegal immigrant youths in group homes rather than turn them over to federal authorities, at a cost to taxpayers of $7,000 per month per youth. The city halted those referrals after eight illegal immigrant crack dealers walked away from a youth center in San Bernardino County.
Newsom had said at a City Hall news conference Tuesday that he had no authority to order that juvenile illegal immigrant criminals be turned over to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, saying that was up to juvenile courts, the district attorney, the public defender and his own Juvenile Probation Department to work out.
But today, the mayor issued a statement saying the sanctuary city policy "is designed to protect our residents. It is not a shield for criminal behavior, and I will not allow it to be used in that fashion.
"Adults who commit felonies are already turned over to the federal authorities for deportation," Newsom said. "There has been a lack of clarity, however, on our policy toward juveniles who commit felonies. ... I have directed my administration to work in cooperation with the federal government on all felony cases."
Newsom said in an interview after issuing the statement that the city is working up a protocol to determine how and when youths will be surrendered for possible deportation.
"Now we will organize to move in this new direction, which is to me the appropriate direction," Newsom said.
He said he had not learned until May that the city was shielding convicted youths from deportation, putting them in group homes or flying them home at taxpayers' expense.
"This was accepted practice for decades, and Siffermann continued it, but now it's stopped," Newsom said.
He said the decision to send the juveniles to the unlocked group home in San Bernardino County "was wrong. It was a mistake, and he (Siffermann) needs to answer for that. I'm not pleased about any of this.'
The mayor added, "There's nothing good about all this, I can't beat around the bush. This, in the past, was something dealt with in the juvenile justice system - it just didn't get up the chain. That's my fault. Ultimately, I'm accountable. Ignorance is no defense."
Newsom said he has been "getting the heat, and I get it."
He said he has ordered a review about how much city money has been spent on flights, group homes and other shielding efforts during his tenure.
"Give us all the facts, we are going to process it and we're going to learn from them," Newsom said.
He said that from Jan. 1, 2005, to June 4 of this year, 162 immigrant youths had been held a total of 8,164 days at juvenile hall. Some of the youths were arrested more than once. At $285 a day per youth, the cost to taxpayers totaled $2.3 million.
"I'm not in any way defending it," Newsom said. "It's not defensible."
Juvenile probation officials are scheduled to meet with federal immigration authorities Thursday to discuss how illegal immigrant juvenile offenders should be handled.
"I think they have gotten the message," said Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, who has said he was "flabbergasted" at the city's now-discarded policy of flying the youths home at city taxpayer expense. "It looks like it's what we wanted."