Letter: Honoring and Valuing Our Immigrant Community

Immigration Court in San Francisco

(Editor’s note: the following is an open letter from approximately 20 rights groups to newly appointed DA Brooke Jenkins in San Francisco).

Dear Interim District Attorney Brooke Jenkins,

On behalf of the undersigned list of organizations, we respectfully urge you as the new interim District Attorney for San Francisco to honor our City’s diverse and large immigrant community, reject xenophobic attempts to target and criminalize immigrants, and refuse to use prosecutorial authority as a means to further immigration detention and deportation.

Our City and community values the contributions immigrants make to our community, whether documented or undocumented. We do not use our resources to assist with immigration enforcement, and we reject using law enforcement as a deportation dragnet. We recognize that due to draconian immigration laws, for non-citizens, contacts with our criminal justice system may trigger immigration detention and deportation. Deportation is a catastrophic consequence that leads to permanent family separation, economic devastation, and a cycle of trauma. We’ve seen mothers and fathers torn away from their children and domestic violence survivors deported, after being caught in the unjust criminal system.

Comply with Padilla and Penal Code 1016.3 By Considering Immigration Consequences During the Plea Bargain Process

We have come a long way in San Francisco, California, and the nation. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Padilla v. Kentucky that defense attorneys must advise individuals who are not citizens about the immigration consequences of a plea bargain; and that prosecutors have a vested interest in considering immigration consequences to avoid future devastating consequences to the accused. The Court held that “deportation is an integral part—indeed, sometimes the most important part—of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes” and that “preserving the client’s right to remain in the United States may be more important to the client than any potential jail sentence.” Similarly, California Penal Code section 1016.3 imposes an obligation on prosecutors to consider immigration consequences, in light of the severe and extreme consequences of deportation.

Recently over the past few years, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has taken its obligation seriously, and has led the way in the nation in considering immigration consequences and offering immigration-neutral pleas during the plea bargain process. Considering immigration consequences simply means that citizens and non-citizens will be treated equally, and non-citizens will not suffer double punishment—criminal sanction and deportation.

We cannot go backward. It is imperative that as the new interim District Attorney you take the obligation to consider immigration consequences seriously, and continue existing policies to assure equal treatment and community well-being. We urge a continuity in existing practices, mandated by federal and state law.  

Continue and Expand the UCAP Diversion Program 

The Unaccompanied Children Assistance Program (UCAP) diverts youth out of the juvenile justice system and into a program tailored to meet the needs of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and poverty. UCAP focuses on linkage to trauma-informed, culturally rooted healing practices, and bicultural/bilingual interventions to meet the youth’s basic, educational, vocational, and mental health needs. UCAP also provides legal representation for children in immigration court. Diversion programs like UCAP hold youth accountable for their actions while diverting them toward services that are more effective at addressing their psychosocial and developmental needs than incarceration. The program has been very successful, and the juvenile court has appreciated its availability. UCAP should be retained and expanded.

Thank you for considering our recommendations for valuing and respecting the large and diverse immigrant community in San Francisco. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Angela Chan, Chief of Policy, SF Public Defender’s Office at angela.chan2@sfgov.org.

Respectfully,

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

AYPAL: Building API Community Power

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

Council on American-Islamic Relations, SFBA

Dolores Street Community Services

GLIDE

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

John Avalos, Former SF Board of Supervisor Member 

LEGAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children 

Orange County Equality Coalition

Pangea Legal Services 

San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium

San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Secure Justice

SF Labor Council/ WE RISE SF 

SF Public defender’s office 

South Bay People Power

University of San Francisco Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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