By SHIKIRI HIGHTOWER
The Immigrant Rights and Human Rights commissions of San Francisco held a joint hearing Monday night giving members of the immigrant community a platform to testify on the change in the city’s policies toward the undocumented.
“I just want my father back,” a middle-school-aged boy told the commissioners. “This is tearing my family apart. I just want things back to how they were.”
The boy’s father was deported last month. The child is an American citizen, but his father is undocumented and therefore must remain in Mexico. The child’s sentiments were echoed throughout the night as many in the overcrowded room in city hall cheered after people testified. Each speaker was limited to two minutes.
The sanctuary city policy is supposed to mean that law enforcement and city departments do not assist federal authorities in enforcing federal immigration laws. That, however, changed in the fall when the city adjusted its policy toward juveniles and began informing immigration officials after police arrests of undocumented juveniles. Police have also been present at ICE raids as reported earlier in Mission Loc@l.
“The communities are under a state of siege,” said Renee Saucedo of La Raza Centro Legal. “These commissions that were set up specifically to address these kinds of issues, they need to be in the forefront of this. They need to provide some leadership around these things.”
Some testified about being caught in the delays of trying to do their paperwork.
“Ten years of paperwork and attorneys’ fees and no response,” said businessman Faraj Aalaei about his wife Susan Akbarpour, who has been denied a green card. “Then they have the audacity to say to us that she should be deported.”
Aalaei is an American citizen; Akbarpour is not. The couple has been married six years. They have a four-year-old daughter. Aalaei is an electrical engineer and is president of a technology company based in Milpitas. Akbarpour is currently a candidate for a Master’s degree in business from Stanford University. Since INS denied Akbarpour’s green card, the couple has been buying time with extensions.
“It’s not an option for her to go,” Aalaei said. “If she goes, well, then we’ll pack up and go. If that’s what this country wants to do with accomplished individuals, I’ll give up that citizenship and move on. I’ve been law-abiding through and through. For me to be treated differently than any other citizen in this country, it’s a violation of my rights.”
District 11 Supervisor John Avalos also attended the hearing.
“The impact that is felt by the people in our communities is extreme and the testimony here is very troubling and very sad,” said Avalos. “Stepped-up ice raids and departments colluding with ICE would be against the sanctuary city ordinance.”
“Families being split apart, people living in fear, a stepped-up police presence that impounds cars of workers of people trying to make a living … People who’ve probably been in the country and contributing to our economy for years are now living in fear of whether they can continue to do that,” said Avalos.
Mission District resident David Delgado said his car was impounded because police said his driver’s license was invalid even though he said he had a valid Oregon driver’s license.
“They took my car, impounded it for 30 days and I had to pay over $2000 to get it out,” said Delgado, who works in San Francisco as a painter and depends on his car to get to and from his jobs. “There’s no way I can make it without a car. I feel like I’ve been ripped off. I paid the registration, I paid the insurance, pay my tickets and still they can take your car any time they want to.”
Police Chief Heather Fong sat in the back of the room listening and taking notes during the three-hour meeting.
“We are concerned about what is being said. In some cases it is truly beyond the departments or the commissioners and it’s the law,” said Fong. “But at the same time, if there are areas that we can work better to improve upon because of communication … If there’s misinformation or misunderstanding, then those are areas that we can [improve]. The more we talk to one another the more that there is a relationship and we can address those.”
Fong said she will be meeting later this week with some of the groups that spoke out. “I think the more we communicate, the more we’re able to work together,” she said.
Supervisor Avalos said he’s hoping he and the Board of Supervisors can clarify the city ordinance. He’s looking forward to recommendations from both the Immigrant Rights Commission and the Human Rights Commission after tonight’s meeting.
“I stand for a world without borders,” said Supervisor Avalos.