Sanctuary Sellout

Before: S.F. coddled undocumented teen criminals. After: S.F. punishes undocumented teens who commit crimes (and some who don't, too).

Guerrero says he felt guilty selling the $20 crack rocks that he sealed in a bag and stuffed under his tongue so he could quickly swallow it if stopped by police. "At the beginning, I was embarrassed," he says. "I felt like I was selling poison, that I was killing people." Over the phone, he told his mom he was working as a day laborer: "I didn't want to tell her, because she would have started crying."

The income barely covered his $200 rent for lousy living conditions in an Oakland apartment. Dozens of young men would sleep in one room — some as young as 13 or 14, he remembered — and many of them had become addicts themselves. "Some of these kids have a situation where they can't leave," he says. "They want to leave, but they have nowhere to go. ... If they escape, then go back after they don't find work, they will hit them and even tie them up." Guerrero says he once saw two teens tied up in the garage of the apartment he lived in.

Exactly who "they" are is a mystery. Probation officials say that under the old sanctuary policy, older men would bail the kids out of juvenile hall. The men usually identified themselves as "uncles," although police suspected they were really drug runners just getting the youths back out to sell more crack on the street. Guerrero says some of them would come by his place. One helped him with rent money several times, with the understanding that Guerrero would then be obligated to buy drugs from him to sell.

Captain Jimenez says the teens' precarious situation perhaps makes deportation a more humane option than enabling them to stay here. "If the person is illegal and has no means of support, if he goes back out on the street, what is his alternative?" he says. "He has no alternative but to do what he's told."

The crack dealing soon caught up with Guerrero. He was arrested near the Civic Center BART station with rocks on him. Released from juvenile hall on probation, he again found himself broke. His mom asked him to send money, so he headed back to the Tenderloin and unwittingly sold crack to an undercover cop. "They dress like drug addicts, they tremble like drug addicts like they really need drugs, [and wear] ugly clothes," he recalls. "Then they take out their badge and say, 'I'm the police! Don't move!'"

Guerrero went back to juvenile hall, serving about 80 days of detention and then more than a year of probation.

After his second arrest, Guerrero was able to change — with a little help. He moved into a Catholic-run charity house in the Mission that does outreach at juvenile hall, and found steady painting work, sending money back to his mother. Now 21, he has kept his adult record clean. (He was arrested in 2007 for possessing cocaine for sale, but the district attorney dropped the charges.) "No more drugs, no more probation, no more nothing," he says triumphantly.

Guerrero says he doesn't want to petition immigration for legal residency for fear he would be deported to Honduras, where he still believes he would be killed in his hometown. "I don't want to stay, but I'm liking it here more and more." Why? The pay is better, he says. Work is more plentiful. Plus, there's less crime.

If you believe the hate mail arriving at his City Hall office, David Campos, the scooter-riding District 9 supervisor from Bernal Heights, hates America. He should be prosecuted for treason, he's a tool of MS-13, and he should be deported back to where he came from. (That is, Guatemala, which he left and came to the United States — illegally — when he was 14.) Yet Campos is undeterred. Blowback is to be expected when you write and successfully pass legislation that stands up for illegal kids accused of felonies. The freshman supervisor hasn't just taken on the mayor, but much of anti-immigrant America, and the legal ramifications ripple out just as far.

"San Francisco has been a leader on these issues; that's why I think it's important to get it right in San Francisco, because if we can't get it right in San Francisco, it's going to have consequences elsewhere," Campos said, adding that the current practice championed by the mayor negates San Francisco's status as a sanctuary city.

At the center of the storm over the Campos measure — and the reason no one seems to plan on following it — is the possibility of a legal challenge. A confidential August memo from City Attorney Dennis Herrera, leaked by the mayor to the Chronicle, warned supervisors that adopting Campos' changes could result in the entire sanctuary city ordinance being struck down in court.

As flummoxed as supporters of the legislation are about the mayor's leak providing a roadmap to sue the city, they can't deny it has a point. Federal law states that local governments cannot prohibit their officials from communicating with ICE about anyone's immigration status. And critics say that the new law, in effect, creates a time period in which officers cannot contact ICE — the time between when the kid is picked up by the police and when there is a verdict.

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