In the two months since the Board of Supervisors upheld Supervisor David Campos’s ordinance to relax the city’s policy toward undocumented juveniles, the number of youth reported to immigration has dropped sharply to less than five a month from an average of more than 30 a month, according to figures from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Immigration sources said the decline reflects fewer unaccompanied Honduran juveniles in San Francisco. They speculated that instead of coming to San Francisco, young Hondurans are moving to Oakland and elsewhere in California.
Juvenile probation in Alameda refers a youth to ICE “if they have reason to suspect they are undocumented,” said William Fenton, assistant chief of probation in Alameda County. Although that seems similar to San Francisco’s policy, Fenton said, “We do more research.”
They don’t, for example, assume a youth is undocumented because he speaks only Spanish or was picked up in areas where other undocumented residents live.
ICE does not keep track of the numbers of youth it receives from Alameda County but they are significantly less than San Francisco, according to Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE.
The treatment of undocumented juveniles in San Francisco has been in a state of legal limbo since November when the board upheld Campos’ ordinance. It calls for law enforcement officials to report undocumented juveniles over to ICE only after a judge upholds a felony charge.
But Mayor Gavin Newsom has refused to implement the change and has asked the Juvenile Probation Department to continue to refer undocumented juveniles to ICE as soon as they are booked with a felony. That policy has been in effect since July 2008 and with it, the number of undocumented juveniles referred to ICE shot up.
Kice said that from June 11, 2008 through Nov. 12, 2009, ICE received 154 referrals from the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department or an average of nearly 31 referrals per month.
Referrals have dropped significantly in the last two months. From Nov. 12, 2009 up until Jan. 22, 2010, nine undocumented juveniles have been referred to ICE, she said.
Statistics from the Juvenile Probation Department show a 72 percent decline in the arrests of unaccompanied Honduran youth in the last year.
Regardless of the downturn in referrals, it appears the probation officers are following the same strict measures enacted by Newsom in 2008. To clarify the current standoff between the current Newsom policy and the approved Campos change, the Juvenile Probation Department is charged with developing a formal policy by Feb. 10 on how to deal with juveniles from arrest to referral.
William Sifferman, the chief of the Juvenile Probation Department, and Gabriel Calvillo, union president for probation officers, declined to comment for this article.
However, sources familiar with the department agreed to talk about how the current policy works.
The process that leads to a juvenile’s deportation, they said, begins when police arrest a juvenile for a “bookable offense,” such as possession of weapons, graffiti or robbery.
The officer writes a report and takes the suspect to the Youth Guidance Center in Twin Peaks where the intake process begins.
The intake officer first runs the youth’s name through the department’s criminal records database. One out of every three juveniles detained has a record, the source said.
They then questions the youth based on a form filled out by the arresting officer. If the form fails to include information on the youth’s parents or if the youth speaks no English, the intake officer can explicitly ask if the youth is undocumented.
Officers have been free to ask these questions since July 2008 when the mayor changed the policy toward undocumented juveniles.
That 2008 policy states that an on-duty probation officer can take the following into consideration when reporting youth to ICE: presence of an undocumented person in the same area arrested, method of entry into the country or length of time into the country.
If the intake officer fails to identify the youth as undocumented, the juvenile is assigned to a probation officer who follows up with more in-depth questioning.
During this time, the probation officer asks the parents to prove their connection to the arrested juvenile. More often then not, a source said, parents tend to willingly tell the truth about their child’s status.
Once an officer suspects the youth is undocumented, the department gives the juvenile a chance to speak to their consulate and an immigration lawyer. Most, according to the source, do neither.
The effect of the hold means that regardless of how the judicial process turns out, ICE can pick up the youth at the end of the hearing.
The time from pick-up to hearing begins when the probation department sends the youth’s file to the district attorney’s office—something that must happen within 48 hours of the arrest. If the D.A. files charges, the juvenile goes before a judge within 24 hours of the charges being filed.
Currently, what happens at the district attorney’s office and what happens before the judge have no impact on the ICE hold. Even if the D.A. fails to file charges, the ICE hold remains.
Under the Campos ordinance, an ICE referral and hold would only be made after a judge upheld the charges against the youth. If charges were dismissed, the youth would be set free.
Angela Chan, a juvenile defense attorney for the Asian Law Caucus and who works closely with the probation officers said that the juvenile probation department is acting out of fear.
“They are panicking at probation and reporting innocent youth,” Chan said. “I can’t wait for this to blow over.”
Evan Hill contributed to this story.