New York Activists Fight to Halt Quality of Life Citations to Protect Undocumented Immigrants

New York City has seen a lot of action around the intersection of immigrant status and quality of life crimes. San Francisco should look at following their lead.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio, like our Mayor Lee, has made strong statements shield and stand with immigrants. Like San Francisco, New York is a sanctuary city . However, as many have noted, the real way to create a sanctuary is to halt to crackdowns on minor offenses—like lodging in public spaces—that make immigrants the subject of unnecessary arrests and can lead to deportations.

New York immigrant advocates have been fighting to halt these minor offenses, many that criminalze behaviors such as sleeping which poor and homeless immigrants need to engage in to survive, to protect undocumented immigrants from deportations.

In places across the country, if immigrants are arrested for things like vending without a license, federal authorities are notified of their name and how to find them. President Trump has asked for all those names and plans to go after them all regardless of how trivial of a crime they committed and even if there is no conviction.

In a victory for immigrant activists, Los Angeles has vowed to stop arresting street vendors without a license, and New York’s De Blasio has retreated from his predecessor’s overly aggressive Quality of Life enforcement.

Here in San Francisco, we haven’t been quite making the same strides towards truly becoming a sanctuary for immigrants. Many community members expressed their concern when the new San Francisco Police Department Chief Scott called himself a “Bratton” police officer. He was referring to the well known police chief who made famous the use of the “br oken windows” theory, the idea that a focus on minor infractions will prevent larger crimes. In practice, it has only helped lead to mass incarceration of poor people and people of color. Additonally, Bratton was chief commissioner in NYC from 1994 to 1996 after being chief of the transit police there. He is also well known for “zero tolerance” policing and introducing CompStat that critics say created perverse incentives to not report crimes.

According to Councilman Lancman from Queens, “The reality is Bill de Blasio’s broken windows policing is the fuel for Donald Trump’s deportation machine.”

San Francisco has made some progress to date decreasing the quality of life enforcement: Courts are no longer issuing warrants for unpaid poverty-related offenses, like sleeping outdoors, and rely solely on issuing civil assessments. The number of citations has also gone down 30% between 2014 and 2016.

However, these issues should give us pause, given the new police chief’s words and the new Trump executive orders. Anywhere between 15 to 20 percent of people living on the streets are undocumented and susceptible to police because of there very round the clock presence on the streets. High proportions of folks are subject to searches by police, and they can receive misdemeanors from police for lodging. This would mean both their fingerprints and contact information is shared with the federal government, even with our sanctuary policy – federal laws trump our local laws.

It is time for San Francisco to roll back quality of life enforcing – not just because it wastes resources, and criminalizes decent people, but because it could also lead to deportations. ≠