Framed by protesters holding signs that read “No ICE in SF,” four supervisors City lambasted their colleague Supervisor Matt Dorsey Tuesday in front of City Hall, decrying his proposal to cut accused fentanyl dealers out of San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy.
The immigrant advocacy group FREE SF Coalition launched a rally in response to recent news that both Dorsey and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins want to rescind a policy that grants immigrants some protections from deportation.
“Supervisor Dorsey is seeking to weaken our sanctuary ordinance,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said. “We’re not going to let him do it. We’re not going to fall for this age-old attack on immigrants.”
In the past two weeks, Dorsey and Jenkins urged officials to make an exception to San Francisco’s Sanctuary City ordinance, which in most cases blocks the city from collaborating with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to deport undocumented immigrants. Exceptions are made for individuals accused of murder, rape, carjacking, arson, and robbery.
Last month, Dorsey proposed extending that exception category to undocumented immigrants who are newly charged with a violent or drug-dealing felony and had been convicted of fentanyl dealing in the past seven years. That same week, Jenkins asked the Department of Homeland Security to extradite two individuals, one accused of sexually abusing children, and another accused of a 2009 domestic violence murder. The feds said they could not oblige while San Francisco’s extant sanctuary policy was upheld, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
But on Tuesday, Supervisors Ronen, Myrna Melgar, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton, and dozens of protesters accused Dorsey, Jenkins, and Mayor London Breed of perpetuating anti-immigrant rhetoric to falsely solve the vast opioid crisis.
“There’s no proof that the folks who have come here to make a better life for themselves and their families are causing the epidemic,” said Melgar, a Salvadoran immigrant herself. “What’s causing it is addiction.”
Mayor Breed, who backed Jenkins for District Attorney last summer, publicly blamed Hondurans for playing a role in the burgeoning opioid crisis. Breed later apologized.
At today’s rally, protesters demanded a different approach to the opioid crisis that has claimed the lives of some 720 people in San Francisco due to accidental overdose in 2020; 640 people due to accidental overdose in 2021; and 620 in 2022, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Stephany Arzaga, an associate legal director at Legal Services for Children, said Central American and Mexican children are being trafficked and forced into drug dealing.
“By further criminalizing policing and detaining these youth, we will only encourage traffickers to continue abusing this vulnerable population, instead of truly addressing and remedying the drug overdose crisis,” Arzaga continued.
Instead, Free SF Coalition members advocated for Dorsey and city officials to address systemic issues, and advocated for enhanced drug treatment and mental health resources.
Olga Miranda, a member of the San Francisco Labor Council and president of SEIU Local 87, said, “When you have a brand-new supervisor and he has a great goddamn idea, think of the ideas to address the real crisis — housing, right? The prices of jobs, the lack of opportunity for our young people, young Black and brown children.”
There could be “unintended” implications of altering the Sanctuary City ordinance, Melgar and Preston warned. Immigration experts and advocates note that undocumented people are less likely to access assistance if they fear deportation or other government retaliation.
Most recently in the pandemic, some Latinx immigrants at first shied from Covid-19 testing and vaccines for fear of being labeled a public charge, local community health workers said.
“When you start to break that confidence, even in what seemed like maybe smaller ways, it sends the message to the community that interacting with your local government is no longer safe,” Preston said. “It’s the opposite of the message that we should be sending.”
Ronen proposed a resolution at Tuesday’s board meeting to “protect” San Francisco Sanctuary City policies. It was co-sponsored by supervisors Preston, Melgar, Walton, and Connie Chan. Multiple participants came to public comment to defend the sanctuary city policy.
As Tuesday’s rally wrapped up, participants said they would send a copy of a letter, signed by 45 organizations, urging supervisors to affirm the Sanctuary City ordinance. One organizer, Sarah Lee, said the letter was emailed to Dorsey, Jenkins and Breed.
“Your name, Dorsey, will be mentioned in every corner of this building behind me. But in the streets, too. We will remember when you come back and say, ‘Can you vote for me?’” Miranda said at Tuesday’s rally. “I will be the one shouting, ‘Where were you when you were attacking immigrant families?’ Do not mess with our sanctuary city ordinance.”