Seen under the bright glare of press scrutiny, The City’s 20-year policy of protecting teenage illegal-immigrant drug dealers from federal deportation is patently absurd. Can anyone doubt that San Francisco’s $2.3 million taxpayer expenditure since 2005 for incarcerating immigrant felon youths would have been better spent on purposes more directly benefiting the public?
This wooly-headed practice grew quietly from the 1989 voter initiative declaring San Francisco a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. Shielding drug-dealing minors from immigration authorities does not only violate federal law and mock the soft-hearted intent of San Francisco voters. It also ignores a specific directive from the city attorney informing the Parole Department that the adult felony-prosecution exception written into the sanctuary ordinance should also apply to juveniles.
Despite all this, the Juvenile Probation Department and its mayor-appointed commission, the juvenile courts, the district attorney and the public defender all turned a blind eye to 162 underage illegal immigrants since 2005 — mostly accused drug dealers from Honduras — who spent time in juvenile hall instead of being turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Finally, this spring, the whole misguided effort began to unravel. An accompanying probation agent was detained during one of the $38,955 worth of city-paid trips since 2006 flying juvenile offenders home to Honduras, Mexico and American Samoa. A U.S. attorney warned city officials they could be prosecuted for harboring criminals.
With juvenile-felon homecoming flights on hold, The City tried housing some in a San Bernardino County group home at a cost of $7,000 per month apiece. But in June five Honduran drug offenders escaped from the unlocked facility. Local officials predictably went ballistic, charging San Francisco with using the Inland Empire as a "dumping ground."
Mayor Gavin Newsom — who certainly had no use for yet another San Francisco embarrassment as he entered the competitive 2010 governor race — announced that juvenile illegal immigrants who committed felonies would be turned over to federal authorities. He had first insisted that he didn’t know about youth-criminal sanctuary activities until mid-May, and then briefly took the position that mayors had no authority to override juvenile court and probation practices.
Federal immigration officials are meeting with The City’s Juvenile Probation Department to specify how the new cooperation system is supposed to work. At this point, it appears as if accused illegal immigrant youths might be held at the already over-capacity juvenile hall until actually convicted.
Since detaining each alien suspect costs San Francisco taxpayers $285 daily, we would hope the U.S. government assumes the costs of the process as early as possible. With The City’s current $338 million deficit burden, it would seem as if the last thing we ought to be doing is pay expenditures that are rightfully federal responsibilities.