Hearing to be held on immigrant rights

April 13, 2009 10:14:38 AM PDT
San Francisco's Human Rights and Immigrant Rights commissions are hosting a hearing Monday night to let community members share their experiences, concerns and recommendations on needed changes to U.S. immigration policies.

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Tomas Lee, the director of immigrant and language services for the city, said the hearing is an attempt to "do the groundwork to find out what's happening in the community for the benefit of local, state and federal officials."

Lee said the immigrant community of San Francisco is still reeling from raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year in which hundreds of people were detained or deported, causing various negative impacts to families and friends.

The raids also "caused stress between local law enforcement officials and a community that's already very suspicious of law enforcement," Lee said. "Now people are afraid to report fires and things to police, so that makes the city more dangerous."

The hearing comes after a report released in March by the federal government that criticized aspects of a federal ICE program that partners with some state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and deport immigration violators.

The Government Accountability Office report said the ICE program's intent is to target those who commit serious crimes, but that the program may have also been used to deport individuals for minor crimes.

Lee said the majority of the people targeted are for offenses such as "traffic misdemeanors or status violators, people with non criminal records," and that the program was "a waste of money."

He said that "what's not realized in mainstream community is a lot of racism and xenophobia involved in the raids and the general portrayal of immigrants in the press as people "getting a free pass, appropriating American jobs, or being involved in drug dealing or gangs."

Lee said many immigrants can be hesitant to reach out to law enforcement, but he expects a large turnout at tonight's hearing because of a large coalition of immigrant rights groups that work closely with the various communities and is also cooperating with the city.

The event, "The Impact of Federal Immigration Enforcement on San Francisco Communities," is taking place at 6 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors' chambers at San Francisco City Hall.

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