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Monday, March 30, 2009

Sound and Fury: Parsing the DCCC's Immigration Stance

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2009 at 12:59 PM

What happens when the shouting's over?
  • What happens when the shouting's over?

San Francisco's powerful Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) made headlines last week when, after heated debate, it passed a resolution assailing Mayor Gavin Newsom's take on the sanctuary city policy -- a decades-old commitment by local public officials not to cooperate more than necessary with federal immigration laws. The policy was revisited by the mayor last year after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the city was keeping young felons from being deported. As a result, some say, the mayor's office has directed police to refer juvenile offenders to federal authorities after they have been arrested -- without necessarily waiting for them to be convicted.

The mayor's office disputes that it has specific guidelines on when to hand over juveniles to the feds. But that didn't keep the DCCC from approving a fiery statement criticizing the mayor and police department for going after law-abiding immigrants. Authored by Debra Walker, a committee member and 2010 supervisorial candidate, the resolution accused local police of racial profiling, with passing references to President Obama, the U.S. Constitution, and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. An unsuccessful amendment put forward by Scott Wiener, another committee member and 2010 supervisorial candidate, skimped on the rhetoric and made clear that the sanctuary policy should not apply to violent criminals.

Fair enough. But what does all this actually mean? In other words, what are the Dems fighting about? Ideology aside, the crux of the debate is a fairly narrow policy question: When is it appropriate for the city to turn over juvenile suspects to immigration authorities -- before or after they've been convicted of a crime? Proponents of the former approach say that violent offenders can do more harm while out on bail, while advocates of the latter say accused immigrants should be afforded due process by the city. The odd thing about the DCCC debate is that neither side has made up its mind on the question.

"I'm not going to get specific, because I'm not an expert on that," Walker said in an interview, adding that her "personal preference would be to wait until we have a trial and a resolution." Wiener, her adversary in last week's discussion, likewise demurred when asked for concrete details on a wise approach. "I'm not prepared to state when exactly in the process it should happen," he said. "I think it's important for people to have due process before the reporting happens," he added, while noting that "If you wait too long in the process, you have other problems."

Therefore be it resolved... Sorry. What was it, exactly?

Photo by Kevin Coles.

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Peter Jamison

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