San Francisco’s different approach to immigration

San Francisco has aroused the ire of conservative Americans
before. There was its pioneering legalization of gay marriages.
There was its 1989 action declaring itself a

sanctuary

city that would neither check anyone’s immigration status nor
cooperate with federal immigration raids. There is its continuing
to issue identification cards to medical marijuana users even while
the Drug Enforcement Adminstration arrests some of those who hold
them.
San Francisco has aroused the ire of conservative Americans before. There was its pioneering legalization of gay marriages. There was its 1989 action declaring itself a “sanctuary” city that would neither check anyone’s immigration status nor cooperate with federal immigration raids. There is its continuing to issue identification cards to medical marijuana users even while the Drug Enforcement Adminstration arrests some of those who hold them.

All that, of course, follows its many years as the unofficial capital of both gay America and the hippie era, whose epicenter was the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets not far from Golden Gate Park.

But the anger now descending upon the city from foes of illegal immigration is as vituperative as anything that has come before.

For San Francisco not only plans to issue municipal ID cards to all city residents regardless of immigration status, but it ran an advertising campaign through this spring to let illegal immigrants know the city gives them sanctuary, won’t help with deportation of anyone but convicted criminals and offers safe access to many public services. The ID cards would serve the same purposes in the city that drivers licenses usually do. But they would be available to all, including those who can’t drive and those ineligible for licenses, like illegal immigrants.

It’s an approach that would never fly in, say, Tulare County, whose rich agriculture industry probably makes it home to far more illegal immigrants than San Francisco. Illegals in places like that are tolerated for their contributions to the economy, which would have great difficulties without their cheap labor. Even so, illegals are rarely welcomed warmly even to farming counties and their use of public services is often resented.

Resentment is the mildest word for some conservative reactions to the San Francisco ad campaign, which had an initial budget of 83,000 taxpayer dollars.

“This is a city of the rich,” said Steve Frank, veteran campaign consultant and former president of the California Republican Assembly, on his daily blog. “The middle class is leaving as quickly as possible. They need illegal aliens to exploit – so the Democrat mayor, governor wannabe, is making this effort to keep his city open and spending tax dollars to attract illegal aliens.”

Meanwhile, one right-wing Los Angeles talk show responded tongue in check with a faux fund-raising campaign to “ship all illegal aliens to the one town that is begging for them, San Francisco.” Others suggest Newsom and other city officials should be indicted for violating federal laws.

It is, of course, not as simple as all that. For one thing, there is no law against offering emergency medical care, public schooling and police protection to anyone.

For another, San Francisco is essentially recognizing that while thousands of its residents are there illegally, the city can’t do anything much about that.

“We’re taking a big bite of the reality sandwich in admitting there are people who live here who may or may not have citizen status,” city-county Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who represents a largely-poor, heavily Latino district, told one reporter.

Said Newsom, “We are standing up to say to all of our residents: We don’t care what your status is. We care that you, as a human being, are a resident of our city and we want you to participate in the life of the city.”

Newsom & Co. are not merely looking after the interests of businesses in their town, from Chinese, Thai and Korean restaurants to carwashes, office cleaning services and roofers that often employ illegals. The mayor and his supporters also are interested in public health and the education of children born to illegal immigrants while living here, who are citizens.

They also want to prevent diseases from becoming epidemic by making sure illegals know they can get health care without fear of deportation. They’d like to help make sure the citizen children of illegals do not grow up illiterate and relegated for life to the same low-level jobs many of their parents now hold.

San Francisco even went so far as to create the nation’s first “immigrant rights administrator” position, doing a job that’s usually reserved for private organizations in other places.

Newsom told reporters he knows he’ll get continued heat for all this. He said the reaction from parts of his own electorate and from around the nation has been even more negative than what greeted his attempt to legalize gay marriage.

But there are no signs San Francisco will stop. And therefore no signs it will soon lose its image as the most liberal city in America.

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