Leniency urged on immigration in the Bay 

While the San Mateo County sheriff says his officers will not check the citizenship status of noncriminals, immigrant advocates say more needs to be done before local immigrants feel safe.

Sheriff Greg Munks announced this month that his office would check documentation only if someone is suspected of criminal activity, but activists are pressing his office not to check citizenship status when someone is pulled over for a traffic violation either, according to Sheryl Bergman with the International Institute of San Francisco.

Police in cities such as San Francisco and Redwood City have established policies like the one being adopted by the county saying they will not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s activities in the Bay Area. Many departments have maintained that it’s not their job to enforce federal immigration law. In addition, when local police detain undocumented residents, it undermines trust between police and the community, according to Redwood City Mayor Barbara Pierce.

"The whole idea is community safety," Pierce said. "We want people to call us when they’ve seen something [illegal]."

ICE teams launched several raids in the Bay Area in early 2007, frightening local immigrants and sparking a new wave of attention. Since Oct. 1, 2006, ICE teams have arrested 1,472 undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area and Central Valley, according to spokeswoman Lori Haley. Although officers have primarily targeted those with prior deportation orders, more than half — 789 — had no prior orders, and 1,134 were not suspected of any other criminal activity, Haley said.

"They do cooperate with us on certain things, but we respect that they don’t have the same mission we do," Haley said of local police.

Local activists are also urging leaders to help them find better services for those caught up in deportation proceedings. There is a shortage of local immigration attorneys, and shelter and psychological resources are needed for children whose parents are deported, according to Sylvia Ramirez with Peninsula Interfaith Action.

Immigrants have been in the local and national spotlight since early 2006, when Congress began debating options ranging from full amnesty to a 700-mile-long fence at the border between Mexico and the United States, but no reforms have been adopted.

"[Federal] immigrant reform failed, and people feel insecure," Ramirez said. "A lot of children were left behind in the raids, and they don’t know if they’re going to see their families again."

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement teams have continued to sweep through the Bay Area intermittently; this month, they netted 12 undocumented immigrants in a shopping-center parking lot in North Fair Oaks, Ramirez said.


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Beth Winegarner

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