Sheila Chung Hagen

The sanctuary city amendment approved by the Board of Supervisors last week has been center stage since it was introduced in August, and for those behind the scenes, it is the culmination of a year’s work.

No one knows this better than Sheila Chung Hagen, 33, a legislative aide for District 9 Supervisor David Campos. Hagen, who began working on immigration issues as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, was instrumental in getting the legislation passed with a veto-proof majority, according to Campos and others.

“She took the lead in the drafting of this legislation,” said Campos, adding that her background in immigration rights issues made her the natural choice to move the legislation through its drafting and approval.

Campos met Hagen through then-Supervisor Tom Ammiano when she was helping him to implement the Municipal ID program. The latter gives undocumented immigrants and others an identification card that can be used at banks and at other establishments. It too was delayed by controversy.

But few measures have been as difficult as changing the policy toward undocumented youth who are arrested and charged with a felony.  Under the current policy, probation officials report youth to immigration at the time of booking.

Immigrant rights groups have advocated reversing that policy since July of 2008 when Mayor Gavin Newsom made the change.

After unsuccessful attempts to lobby the mayor, the groups turned to the newly-elected Campos, and Hagen was one of the first aides they spoke to, they said.

Hagen was no stranger to sanctuary city policies. Before being an aide she was the city’s Immigrant Rights Administrator in charge of making sure city departments followed the policy.

Having grown up in immigrant communities in Los Angeles, the daughter of an Argentinean mother, a Korean father and a Mexican stepfather, she relates easily to those affected by the current policy.

“Immigrant rights issues have always been close to me and I have always fought hard to advance them,” she said.

Hagen worked on immigrant rights with several non-profits as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. And in 2003, she became the director of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Hagen’s previous work and fluent Spanish made it easier for immigrant rights groups to approach her, said Ana Perez, the executive director for the Central American Resource Center.

Hagen guided organizations like the resource center and other constituents through the legislative process, Perez said.

“It was in consultation with the community groups and then in consultation with the city attorney’s office, that we developed this legislation,”  Hagen said.

Striking the right balance between the demands of community groups and politicians was difficult. On one side, community organizations and constituents demanded no deportation of any youth—a policy until July 2008—while the mayor demanded all youth be reported.

“We took a balanced approach,” Hagen said, adding that they considered all of the factors involved.

In drafting the legislation, Hagen sat in numerous meetings with community groups, juvenile attorneys and staff from the city attorney’s office.

Angela Chan, a juvenile defense attorney, said she was impressed by Hagen’s cool nature in drafting the current legislation and in implementing the Munipal ID program.

“She is the kind of person who steps back and points out something everyone else missed,” she said.

Once drafted, the proposal began receiving support from the Immigrant Rights Commission, the Youth Commission and the Democratic County Central Committee.

Securing swing votes from mayoral candidate Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell was easy because their constituents had already lobbied them, Hagen said.

“This is not just an issue that affects one district it affects the whole city,” Hagen said.

When the proposal hit the legislative floor, it was Hagen who orchestrated the debate and managed the community groups.

“She met with us often and kept us up to date,” said Perez who added that this was especially crucial when it came to organizing those who gave testimony. Hagen, she said, has built trust,  always getting back to constituents promptly.

Despite the Board’s 8-2 vote last week, Newsom vetoed the item on Thursday. The supervisors have promised to override the veto, and supporters said Hagen will help to find a solution to the standoff. She helped during the period when Newsom put a hold on the Municipal ID program for more than six months. Then too, he was waiting for any legal challenges against the program.

As the mayor kept pushing back the launch date for the ID program, Hagen worked in educating city departments like Parks and Recreation and the police about the new ID program. She even managed to convince businesses to give discounts to those with the ID.

It’s unclear how Hagen will manage the current stand-off, but few doubt her skills. Eric Quezada, the director for Dolores Street Community Services, said, “It would have been difficult to have a better legislative aide for District 9.”

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Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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