Immigrant Set to Receive $190K in Sanctuary City Lawsuit

Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno spent two months in detention after SFPD turned him over to ICE in 2015.

Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno and his fiancee, Dora Cortes, moments after Figueroa-Zarceno’s release from Contra Costa West County Detention Facility in February. (Courtesy Sandy Valenciano/California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance)

A 32-year-old Mission District resident who sued the city for unlawful arrest after authorities violated the Sanctuary City Ordinance is set to receive a $190,000 settlement. Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno, a native of El Salvador, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the San Francisco Police Department tipped them off about a 10-year-old outstanding warrant for his deportation. SFPD became aware of his status when Figueroa-Zarceno visited Southern Police Station on Dec. 2, 2015, to retrieve a police report about his stolen car. He was arrested as he exited the station, and sent to a detention center in Martinez, where he stayed for two months. As an added blow, his car was auctioned off during his stay.

Figueroa-Zarceno’s immigration case is complicated — there’s a solid run down of all the nitty gritty details here — and it’s still in process. Immigration attorneys at Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale LLP were able to get Figueroa-Zarceno out on bond after two months in detention. While his legal status within the country may take a while to establish, the lawsuit is moving right along, thanks to the Asian Law Caucus, which is representing him in the case against the city.

Lawyer Saira Hussain tells SF Weekly that the Asian Law Caucus was introduced to Figueroa-Zarceno’s case after his immigration attorneys reached out to FREE SF, a coalition of 21 organizations which together advocate for “community safety, transformative justice, immigrant rights, and self-determination.” Figueroa-Zarceno’s arrest, his attorneys suspected, had violated the city’s Sanctuary Ordinance, which bans city employees from assisting ICE in detentions or arrests. Upon investigation, FREE SF agreed, and the Asian Law Caucus filed a suit against the city on behalf of Figueroa-Zarceno in January. 

That lawsuit was introduced to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. It will be reviewed by the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, and will return to the full board for a final vote, most likely in July. 

Figueroa-Zarceno’s case is just one of thousands wending its way through the nation’s immigration courts, and the climate in Washington D.C. is becoming increasingly unfriendly. On Monday, the Supreme Court revived parts of a travel ban that targets people from six Muslim-majority countries. Despite being struck down by two lower courts, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump’s temporary moratorium could go forward in some cases. A hearing will be held on the ban in October.

And in another blow, five conservative justices will review Rodriguez v. Jennings, which could result in the overturning of a lower court ruling that detained immigrants have the right to a bond hearing every six months. Alejandro Rodriguez, a California resident and the plaintiff in the case, was held in immigration detention for three years without a hearing for his release.

It’s hard not to feel beaten down by these massive steps backward in immigrant rights, but Hussain views our current political climate as a call to action. “At a time when the current presidential administration is attacking immigrant communities, it is crucial for people of conscience to stand up and speak out against this scapegoating. In a community as diverse and immigrant-rich as San Francisco, our policies must reflect our values,” she says. “Localities have the ability to decide for themselves if they want to devote precious local resources to enforcing civil immigration laws, and studies have shown that doing so makes communities less safe, as immigrants may be afraid to come forward if they are victims of, or witnesses to, crime. Now, more than ever, San Francisco must stand proudly as a Sanctuary City and should ensure that its law enforcement is following these values.”

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