Fighting for Sanctuary


For almost three decades San Francisco has been a “sanctuary city” with legislation that protects immigrants living in the city without proper documentation, but a looming Trump administration threatens to dismantle this status.

The prospect of deportation is sending ripples of shock and fear throughout the undocumented immigrant population of the Mission District but also inspiring and inciting action throughout the community and the city.


The sanctuary movement began in the 80s, when churches all over the country began opening their doors to Central American refugees fleeing their war-torn countries. In San Francisco, this led to the 1989 Sanctuary Ordinance; a law explicitly prohibiting police from aiding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It also made it illegal for police to racially profile or target people based on their citizenship status. San Francisco became the first city in the nation to establish a sanctuary city law.

Context and Impact

There are approximately 44,000 immigrants living in San Francisco without official documentation, according to 2014 data from the Center for Migration Studies.

Nearly 3,000 of those people reside in the Mission District, mostly all of whom emigrated from Mexico. The Mission’s strong Latino community can provide a sense of familiarity and comfort for people who leave their country.

“I didn’t know anyone besides my cousin at first, and being [in the Mission] helped me feel a little closer to my people, my land,” says Clotilde, a chef for a catering business who is currently undergoing the process of naturalization.

Trumps Threats

San Francisco receives over $1 billion from the government; a large amount goes to healthcare, but a portion directly funds public assistance programs, according to City Controller Ben Rosenfield.

On his first day in office, Donald Trump will cut all federal funding to sanctuary cities, or so he has claimed in his 100-day plan.

Whether or not he can actually withhold all funds is not exactly clear, according to District 9 Supervisor David Campos. City officials have been investigating Trump’s claim and say it is in murky legal territory, Campos said.  They have found that Trump can only take the portion of money that is directly funding immigration services.

“If he tries to take it all, the city would sue him,” Campos said.

Exactly what portion of money he can take, is again unclear, according to Campos. He believes the figure could range anywhere from a few million to two-and-a-half billion dollars.

The implications of such a monetary loss could devastating to community organizations and non-profit immigration services that have provided information and legal defense for individuals facing deportation.

Information that has helped people like Clotilde who sought services at the Central American Resource Center, a non-profit organization in the Mission.

After 15 years of living and working in San Francisco, Clotilde says the legal process to become a citizen was daunting at first but after receiving help at CARECEN she was able to navigate the process.

68 percent of detained immigrants do not have a lawyer, according to the California Coalition for Universal Representation. Those who have legal representation are five times as likely to win their cases, the report said.

Inciting Action

In response to Trump’s threats, David Campos who just termed out as the Mission District supervisor, has actively taken measures to combat the possibility of .

Working with Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Campos has proposed the city spend $5 million on providing legal help for the undocumented by reinforcing Adachi’s staff and funding nonprofit and community organizations.

The proposal has been met with hesitation by Mayor Ed Lee who feels public defenders should be left out of the funding pool and therefore kept separate from immigration legal services.

But according to Niloufar Khonsari, director of Pangea Legal Services, the only way to properly represent and help community members is for community organizations to collaborate with the public defender’s office to create a holistic approach of action.

“Having public defenders working with us is critical for providing universal representation, we need emergency room public defenders and primary care non-profits,” Khonsari said.

While it is unclear how or if Trump will carry out his plans regarding immigration enforcement, the consequences could be as extreme as his vow to deport three million people.

Supervisor David Campos stands at a podium on the steps of City Hall surrounded by community organizations advocating for universal representation



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