Illegals Welcome in San Francisco

by Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES – The City of San Francisco recently launched an advertising campaign featuring TV and radio ads, billboards and bus signs reminding residents that the city is a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. The $83,000 ad campaign includes brochures distributed at police stations and hospitals, promising safe access to city services regardless of residency status.

This city has long considered itself as a compassionate place, promoting gay marriages and expanding homeless welfare programs. Now officials are extending a very public welcome to undocumented workers.

“We’re inviting people to come out of the shadows and take advantage of services. Our city officials want to remind illegal workers that the city would not play a part in any possible discrimination they might encounter at the hands of the federal government,”San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Since 1989, when San Francisco became a sanctuary city, it has tried to make this point clear for years. It has barred employees from assisting federal officials with immigration investigations or arrests. Recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in San Francisco and the Bay Area convinced Mayor Newsom.

Although there are other communities in the country that consider themselves as sanctuary cities– including Seattle, San Jose, Miami and Oakland — only San Francisco has launched a campaign to advertise that fact, officials here say.

San Francisco’s ads — written in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian — encourage residents to seek services and report crimes without fear of being deported.

Los Angeles does not consider itself a sanctuary city, but officials say police will not take part in federal immigration raids. “Our officers are not immigration officers,” said Matt Szabo, a spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

A spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, however, called San Francisco’s program “a tragedy.”

“It’s an insult to the people who waited in line and filled out forms so they would do things right,” said Tony Bell. “For them, it’s a slap in the face.”

But Newsom brushed off the criticisms. “We’re not trying to convince people in Los Angeles,” he said. “We’re trying to assist people in our own city and county.”

Newsom, a Democrat who is considering a run for governor in 2010, said he hopes it will have an effect at shelters and psychiatric intake units.

He acknowledged that much of the reaction to the sanctuary program has been negative, attracting even more criticism than his stand on gay marriage.

“We’re convinced that this is the right thing to do,” the mayor added.


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