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There were applause lines, cheers and cat calls but no solutions Thursday morning in City Hall as San Francisco’s chief juvenile probation officer came before Supervisor David Campos to explain why he could not follow the city’s new law on undocumented youth.

“Until a court rules otherwise, the department must conclude that [federal] law would not allow the department to change its policy,” juvenile probation Chief William Siffermann said.

Campos said he had never heard of a city department chief being allowed to flaunt a law passed by the Board of Supervisors.

“How is it that after a law was passed … we’re now in the position of having to ask,” Campos said.

He and Siffermann debated well-worn arguments and engaged in a few testy exchanges, but neither gave up ground, though Siffermann caused a brief stir when he admitted that his department’s current practices could lead to racial profiling.

Campos called for Siffermann to come before the Rules Committee, which Campos chairs, after the mayor’s office and the Juvenile Probation Department said they would ignore a new ordinance, approved by the board,  that relaxes San Francisco’s treatment of undocumented youth.  Rather than turning them over to ICE upon booking, the new ordinance waits until a felony charge has been upheld.

Probation officers began automatically reporting such youth to the federal government in 2008; Campos’ ordinance would allow them to report only if the felony charge is upheld or if the youth is charged as an adult.

The Board of Supervisors passed the new ordinance late last year and overrode a veto by Mayor Gavin Newsom in November. The Juvenile Probation Department was supposed to craft and implement a new policy by mid-February, but that never happened.

Siffermann pointed out to Campos that the new sanctuary ordinance allowed his department only to craft a new policy to the extent permitted by state and federal law. He said that City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office and outside lawyers retained by the city had advised him that federal law and the threat of criminal prosecution meant he should not follow the new ordinance.

The position taken by U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who convened a criminal grand jury to investigate the city’s old policy of shielding undocumented youth from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, was particularly concerning, Siffermann said.

“We must seriously consider these statements by federal authorities and their actions, to issue federal subpoenas [to city employees],” he said.

Campos argued that his ordinance did not require probation officers to harbor or transport undocumented youth, which would violate federal law. But Siffermann and Gabe Calvillo, the president of the city’s probation officers union, said probation officers would be required to supervise and possibly assist youth if a judge let them out of custody, which might also involve, in Siffermann’s words, “transporting them to certain locations.”

Near the end of Siffermann’s testimony, Campos produced a copy of the Juvenile Probation Department’s current undocumented youth policy and asked about a section that lists criteria for determining if a juvenile is an undocumented immigrant. One allows probation officers to make that determination if someone has been found in the presence of other undocumented people.

Under questioning from Campos, Siffermann admitted that that particular criterion, if taken alone, could lead to racial profiling without “vigilant supervision.”

“I think we would have a problem with that,” Campos said, to applause from the audience.

Charles Washington, a San Francisco Muni driver and U.S. citizen whose wife and 13-year-old boy face deportation, also testified. The Washingtons’ case has caused a flurry of media attention in recent days: The boy, who is undocumented, punched a fellow student and stole 46 cents from him and was arrested and reported to ICE. When his mother picked him up from ICE custody, she was issued a deportation notice.

Campos and immigrant advocates point to the Washingtons as a prime example of why the city’s sanctuary policy needs to be relaxed.

“Instead of being able to enjoy the time my family has together, we have to worry about whether they’ll have to be leaving the country,” Washington said. “Under the current system, how many families are going to go the exact same way we went?”

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  1. Nowhere in the sanctuary ordinance is the Juvenile Probation Department prohibited from reporting illegal aliens in its custody at the time of arrest. If the Supervisors had wanted to prohibit the Department from reporting aliens at the time of arrest without exception, then the language should have been clear and unambiguous. The sanctuary ordinance is poorly drafted, symbolic and unenforceable. Sifferman is acting within his discretion under the ordinance to continue the policy of reporting aliens at the time of arrest as before.

    Federal law, 8 USC 1373, clearly prohibits Campos and his fellow Supervisors from threatening to cut the Department’s funding by whatever amount the Department has spent in cooperation with the ICE. If it’s OK for the Supervisors to punish the Juvenile Probation Department for allegedly not following the sanctuary ordinance, then shouldn’t it also be all right for Congress to cut San Francisco out of any further economic stimulus funding so long as the Supervisors are pressuring public safety officers not to cooperate with the ICE? I’m sure that a lot of moderate House Democrats in close elections this year will probably be considering just that.

    In an October 2007 debate, Joe Biden had been asked whether he would allow sanctuary cities to ignore federal law and had replied “No.” Jerry Brown was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle inteview today as opposing sanctuary cities. Rather than Newsom, it is Campos and his fellow Supervisors who are out of step with mainstream opinion on this issue.

    Barbara Boxer had been copied by the Board’s clerk with the amended ordinance last December. Did Boxer respond and say that she approves of what the Board is doing? Just curious.