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Supervisor David Campos has called for public hearings about the Juvenile Probation Department’s refusal to implement an ordinance that would relax the city’s policy on when to report youth to immigration.

Juvenile Probation Department staff are required to attend the hearings scheduled for March at the Rules Committee, which Campos chairs.

The hearings pave the way for a potential legal showdown between the Board of Supervisors and the probation department.

The law in question, which  is supposed to be implemented today, states that juvenile probation can report youth to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE only if their felony is upheld. At present, probation officers report youth to ICE at the time of booking.

So far, the department has refused to implement the new policy and William Sifferman the chief of the Juvenile Probation Department told Campos on Tuesday that the department’s position remained the same.

“I think that the community needs to hear directly from JPD what they are doing,” Campos said referring to probation. “We need to know about their activities and how much time are they spending on the enforcement of immigration law.”

Sifferman previously responded to Campos’ questions in a letter on December 4, that said the department does not directly keep track of the number of youth it reports to ICE.

If  the probation department remains intent on its refusal to implement the new policy, the board’s only recourse will be  to take “legal action” against it for ignoring city law, Campos said.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a Jan. 29 memo that he is prepared to send the ordinance to a judge to hear it, but he has not yet done so.

Moreover  in a Dec. 16 memo,  Herrera said that his office stands by an earlier legal opinion that advises the city against disciplining employees who report youth to ICE.  Only the Juvenile Probation Department can decide which policy to follow, Herrera said.

He also wrote that  U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, an opponent of the new policy,  failed to offer the city assurance of immunity from prosecution if  the relaxed ordinance went into effect. This might change, however,  if a less aggressive U.S. Attorney replaces Russoniello.

Main Justice, a publication that covers the U.S. Department of Justice,  reported that the FBI is vetting Melinda Haag of San Francisco to replace Russoniello.

Campos was skeptical about Russoniello’s departure.

“I have been hearing for a year that Russoniello will leave,” Campos said. “The city needs to move forward;  it’s the right thing to do—the thing with the U.S. attorney that is something that happens in Washington.”

Sifferman and Mayor Newsom,  however, contend they are complying with the policy because they are following it “to the extent permitted by state and federal law.”

“The city attorney opined that if the city complied with the ordinance, probation would not be in compliance with state and federal law,” said Tony Winnicker the mayor’s communications director.

Campos and immigration advocates ”respectfully disagree,” because federal law does not require probation officers to ask about immigration status, said Angela Chan a juvenile justice attorney for the Asian Law Caucus.

Despite a decrease in undocumented youth being referred to ICE, advocates said they are seeing younger youths being arrested. The latest one was 13-years-old, Chan said.

Campos and Chan added that there is confusion among community members about what the current policy is.

“People are frustrated they feel they worked so hard to get this law passed and nothing has happened,” Campos said.

Related Story: Drop in Juvenile Refferals to ICE.

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Rigoberto Hernandez

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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  1. Does anyone seriously think that Obama’s Justice Department is going to risk political capital to appoint a U.S. Attorney who would reverse the policies followed by Russoniello, especially in an election year? The language of the amended ordinance states that the Juvenile Probation Department is only to comply with the ordinance “to the extent permitted by state and federal law.” Federal law expressly prohibits a local government from barring local officials from providing information about illegal aliens to the ICE (8 USC 1373). Since federal law prohibits the city from ordering juvenile probation officers not to report illegal aliens in their custody at the time of arrest rather than at the time of conviction, the terms of the ordinance itself permits the Juvenile Probation Department to continue to report illegal aliens at the time of arrest. If the Supervisors really wanted to stop the Probation Department from continuing as before, then they should delete the language “to the extent permitted by state and federal law” from the ordinance.

  2. To the contrary – a chorus of legal scholars agree that the due process policy is completely sound under federal and state law. And by providing youth with the right to a hearing on the charges before being reported for deportation, the new policy will make sure INNOCENT youth are not needlessly torn from their families.

  3. Why are we working so hard to violate federal laws to protect criminals instead of protecting law abiding citizens???