The historic inauguration of Vicki Hennessy as San Francisco’s first female sheriff opens a new era in city law enforcement history.
But what kind of era will it be?
For immigrant women in particular, the stakes have never been higher.
Just after New Year’s Day, awful scenes of deportation raids rounding up mothers and young children rocked immigrant communities from coast to coast with pain and anxiety.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents terrorized Central American refugee families in several states. Shockingly, ICE seized children as young as 4 and has already forced some back to the extreme violence they fled.
These raids occurred primarily in southern states. Yet the panic created by the Obama administration’s cruel leak of its plans on Christmas Eve has had serious repercussions in many local neighborhoods.
Unfounded rumors of local ICE activity have spread like wildfire across social media, driving some immigrant moms to keep their children home from school as advocates scramble to quell fears. For immigrant women who are survivors of domestic violence and already struggle to get the support they need, this stress has added yet another layer of isolation and fear to their experiences.
Deportation comes at a tremendous human cost to families and communities deeply woven into the tapestry of our social fabric. Even the fear of permanent separation from loved ones brings its own psychological scars.
Yet Sheriff Hennessy has already suggested deportation may be the first topic she’ll address.
Immigrant domestic violence survivors, who have shared their stories in support of San Francisco’s pro-immigrant policies, hope Sheriff Hennessy will reject calls from Donald Trump and others to turn the jail into pipeline for deportation.
As Trump’s hateful rhetoric has made clear, the push for deportations is cloaked in language that dehumanizes, scapegoats and criminalizes entire communities. But immigrant survivors of domestic violence know all too well that such rhetoric masks the ugly truth about deportations.
The immigration system is fundamentally devoid of due process. ICE has swept up even U.S. citizens and survivors of crimes. And folks can remain locked up for months or years without even seeing a judge while they face abusive treatment. In fact, a recent news report compared a California detention facility to Guantanamo Bay.
Cecilia Chavez, a transgender community leader and member of Community United Against Violence, faced these injustices personally. Chavez is a survivor of domestic violence. She called police for help after realizing her partner was drugging her. Yet police officers arrested her along with her boyfriend and she was later turned over to ICE for deportation.
Stories like Chavez’s show how entanglement with ICE can damage already frayed confidence in law enforcement. Thus, domestic violence advocates have fought so hard to get local law enforcement out of the deportation business.
With the fingerprints of all people arrested automatically sent to ICE, the least we can do is uphold basic due process. That means making sure a judge has found probable cause for ICE’s often shaky requests for our local jail to share private information like release dates and home addresses.
To be sure, some voices have called for people with certain convictions to be treated more harshly. Yet many – including domestic violence survivors – received convictions long ago and have since transformed their lives.
Moreover, law enforcement misconduct – from racial profiling, to racist text messages, to killings by police – has exploded in the national spotlight and highlighted the severe shortcomings of the justice system, from San Francisco to Chicago.
In the face of this crisis of confidence, we need to do everything we can to advance due process, not undermine it.
Frankly, Sheriff Hennessy disappointed many service providers and advocates with her support for building a new jail, unanimously rejected by the Board of Supervisors late last year. But with The City’s deportation policy, the sheriff has a powerful opportunity to make the right choice. Across The City, immigrant women are counting on her.
Lidia Salazar is the programs co-director at Community United Against Violence, the oldest LGBT anti-violence organization in the country that provides services to survivors of domestic violence and hate violence.