SF officials questioned about sanctuary policy

July 1, 2008 7:46:30 PM PDT
Officials in San Francisco are facing some embarrassing questions about the sanctuary city policy towards illegal immigrants. It comes after eight crack dealers, here illegally, were shipped to group homes in Southern California, rather than being turned over to federal immigration authorities.

San Francisco launched a public service campaign back in April to reaffirm its status as a sanctuary city, with San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong explaining what that means.

"We do not work on enforcing immigration laws. Only public safety to prevent crimes."

Now, that sanctuary city law is coming under fire after the discovery that the head of the Juvenile Probation Department, Bill Siffermann, has been shielding convicted crack cocaine dealers, who are here illegally.

First, the probation chief was flying the young men back to their home countries including Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador at taxpayer expense, rather than having them deported.

Then, when federal immigration officials found out, he instead sent a group of eight to group homes in San Bernardino County at a cost of $7,000 each -- all charged to San Francisco taxpayers. Within days, all of them ran away.

"It's obviously either naiveté or arrogance, compounded by incompetence to do something like that," says U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello.

Russoniello says the offenders are, in his words, "gaming the system".

"Quite frankly, even if the city has a sanctuary law, people in the criminal process are exempt from the considerations of sanctuary," says Russoniello.

Renee Saucedo is an attorney with La Raza Centro Legal. She says undocumented workers in San Francisco feel safe because of the city's sanctuary law.

"Our perspective is that the benefit of San Francisco having a sanctuary law overwhelmingly outweighs any risk or potential problem such as this one."

But this is not a government raid rounding up illegal immigrants. It's a case of the city protecting drug dealers according to Leo Lacayo. He is with the Republican Party in San Francisco.

"I believe in the sanctuary concept. I think most of us do. This is the city of St. Francis and we're diverse and tolerant. But, to what point is the tolerance to be endured when we endanger our citizens by harboring and assisting criminals in avoiding prosecution?"

The Mayor says the question of illegal immigrant criminals is not something he has authority over. He says that it's a question for Juvenile Court judges, the District Attorney and the Public Defender to figure out.


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