By Ramona Giwargis San Jose Mercury news
Nine days after a woman was gunned down in San Francisco — allegedly by an illegal immigrant felon whom city authorities had released without notifying federal authorities — Mayor Sam Liccardo sent a letter to county officials urging them to reconsider a similar policy that he believes frustrates deportation efforts.
“Contrary to the purposes served by other immigrant-focused initiatives we’ve supported, any policy that hastens the release of predatory criminals makes us all less safe,” Liccardo, a former county prosecutor, wrote in his July 10 letter to Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese. Liccardo asked the board to publicly discuss the policy — the second attempt since 2011 to revise it.
Federal immigration agents taking suspected illegal immigrants into custody during an operation in the San Jose area. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
But immigrant rights advocates are criticizing the mayor, saying his letter flies in the face of Liccardo’s recent effort to create an Office of Immigrant Affairs, which helps immigrants navigate city services, transition into the culture and integrate into the economy.
Lisa Maria Castellanos, policy and organizing director at Sacred Heart Community Service, said one major goal of the Office of Immigrant Affairs was to improve the immigrant community’s relationships with police, but the mayor’s letter sends the opposite message.
“It’s counterintuitive. It’s a slippery slope that runs the risk of spreading fear in the community,” she said. “We have to be careful that if we’re lighting a candle with one hand that we’re not pouring water on it with the other.”
But Liccardo said he’s trying to protect the immigrant community by pushing for the policy changes.
“The heavily immigrant communities that I’ve represented as a council member and mayor don’t want a violent felon back in their community any more than the rest of us do,” he said.
Like San Francisco, Santa Clara County adopted a policy of generally refusing to honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to detain illegal immigrants. It’s a policy that’s irked Liccardo, who believes the county should cooperate with ICE agents in cases of serious or violent felonies. Without changing the policy, the mayor said in his letter, tragedies similar to the July 1 slaying of Kathryn Steinle are not only foreseeable but “inevitable.”
But immigration advocates, including San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez, see it differently. They say allowing ICE into local communities creates fear and intimidation, discourages cooperation with police and violates people’s basic human rights to due process.
Peralez said the current county policy makes a safer community by encouraging immigrants to report crime without fear of deportation. He said Liccardo’s letter undermines his work as a champion for the Office of Immigrant Affairs.
“Our mayor in this letter is essentially saying he thinks it’s OK to treat undocumented individuals differently and not allow them due process,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the community we’ve been championing.”
Before county supervisors approved the policy on ICE holds in 2011, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Sheriff Laurie Smith cautioned against it.
But the majority of supervisors, including Cortese, said they couldn’t support a “two-tier” justice system that treats illegal immigrants differently.
The heated debate in San Jose comes on the heels of reports that Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are crafting federal legislation requiring all local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE. More than 50 advocacy groups signed a letter Monday urging lawmakers to reconsider.
Santa Clara County had an estimated 183,500 illegal immigrants in 2013, the state’s third-largest population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Local advocates said the mayor’s letter appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to the recent tragedy.
“We want to make sure the horrific tragedy that took place in San Francisco isn’t used as a political rationale to change a policy that the community fought for,” said Priya Murthy, policy and organizing program director for Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network. “Notifying ICE of individuals based on people’s immigration status can only result in a chilling effect and distrust of law enforcement.”
It is simple logic here in my mind. If you create an environment for criminals to thrive somewhere, they will thrive. If you have a “safe Haven” for some people to go they will go including bad people. You have to prepare for that and cannot give blanket immunity to everyone because public safety will suffer. Including the group of people you are trying to protect.