Funny Dinero

The mayor says the city won't help the Bushies crackdown on illegal immigrants--but why is SF still getting money from the feds then?

There's been a lot of talk about protecting illegal immigrants from the big, bad federal government. In the wake of recent Bay Area raids by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Mayor Gavin Newsom popped up to remind everyone that San Francisco is a "sanctuary city," and that city workers are prohibited from helping immigration agents in any way.

But read the ordinance that makes San Francisco a "city and county of refuge." In the very first paragraph it states that no city agency will help enforce U.S. immigration policies — unless required to by state or federal law. So while San Francisco cops may not hold open the doors for immigration agents on their dawn raids, a federal law compels the Sheriff's Department to work with immigration agents.

In accordance with an implicit provision of city law, however, the Sheriff does so very grudgingly.

Each year, San Francisco gets money from a federal program that partially reimburses counties for incarcerating illegal immigrants who have felony charges or prior felony convictions. In the 2005 fiscal year, the city got $1.1 million through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Last year the Department of Justice conducted an audit to make sure that everyone who gets money through the program deserves it — and when the audit came out in January 2007, our humble city was the star.

Auditors talked to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents around the country, and San Francisco was the only place that got badmouthed. "The process for interviewing aliens in the jail was described as "uncooperative' by the local ICE officials," the audits states, "who also characterized relations with the Sheriff's Department as unfriendly and marked by "much animosity.'"

Before the city was first declared a sanctuary in 1989, things were different, says Sheriff Mike Hennessey. Immigration agents routinely came to the jail to look through the "booking cards" that have information about current inmates. "They could just go through it, let their fingers do the walking, and look for familiar names, or conceivably Hispanic names," he says. They were also allowed to walk past the jail cells and pull people out for interviews.

"We don't let them do that anymore," says Hennessey. His grin somehow came through over the phone.

The audit's final verdict: San Francisco can still get its federal funding because technically the city is complying with the rules, although its workers do the "bare minimum" required under law. It's perhaps the only case we can think of where being a lazy city bureaucrat is a good thing.

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