By Angela Chan (Juvenile Justice and Education Staff Attorney, Asian Law Caucus) and Evelyn Sanchez (Executive Director, Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition)
Note: Originally Posted on New America Media, Jan 21, 2009
The legacy of fear and violence from the Bush administration’s immigration policies can now give way to hope and a reasoned approach to solving the problems of reform.
“Bye bye Bush!” exclaimed hundreds of immigrants and supporters as we filled San Francisco’s City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 21st, fueled by a sense of relief brought by the end of the anti-immigrant Bush administration and hope for the new Obama administration.
Most San Franciscans would agree that the Bush administration has left a legacy of failed and dysfunctional policies–among the most notable, a broken immigration system. The Bush immigration policy has relied almost solely on one approach: detention and deportation of alleged undocumented immigrants, who were apprehended (often along with lawful residents and even citizens) in violent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in neighborhoods all over our country. The raids have left broken families and fearful communities in their wake.
Here in San Francisco, we saw the consequences of this sad legacy when the two-decade old Sanctuary Ordinance and other progressive, well-reasoned policies began to unravel over the past year under the weight of eight years of Bush doctrines.
Under the threat of prosecution by the U.S. Attorney General for the Northern District of California Joseph Russoniello, San Francisco quickly rescinded its longstanding policy toward undocumented youth in the juvenile system and replaced it with one that deprives youth of due process, resulting in some 100 youths being referred by San Francisco officials to ICE thus far. The policy of brute enforcement overcame longstanding local policies that recognized the public safety benefits and sheer good sense of building an inclusive community and the due process rights of every human being. The deportation of immigrant youth, coupled with raids in homes, near schools, and in workplaces, made fear a common emotion among immigrants, here in our city and elsewhere.
With President Barack Obama leading a new administration, we have turned a page in our nation’s history. By asking us to let hope, not fear, guide us, he has challenged us to think differently about how to best solve our problems. Problems are not solved when people are afraid, when they aren’t sure how they are going to earn a living or keep their children safe. Fear does not inspire compassion or compromise, and certainly does not inspire trust. In contrast, hope is an undeniably better inspiration for problem solving, and has always been a driving force in the immigrant community. Immigrants are part of our communities and they are part of many of our families. If we are going to solve our problems, and create just and humane policies toward immigrants, policies that we can be proud of, we are going to have to let hope lead us there.
Today, a coalition of organizations that has been working with San Francisco’s supervisors, community leaders, social service providers, and faith groups gathered at City Hall to call for a halt to the raids and for support of fair and humane immigration reform. In doing so, we joined our voices with thousands of others across California and across our country who found hope in the words of our new President Barack Obama during his inauguration speech:
“We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”
These are deeply inspiring words of hope to America’s immigrants, and they call on us to recognize our common humanity and to work together fearlessly to address our most complex problems in the hardest of times. Today, as we held a vigil in front of City Hall in support of fair and humane immigration policies, we took the first steps in this new era towards hope for our country and for our city, and for those who wish to find and build their dreams here with us.