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Meeting Information

Full Commission

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San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission
Full Commission Meeting
Monday, November 9, 2009 at 5:30 PM
State Building, Milton Marks Auditorium
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

1. Call to Order and Roll Call
The meeting was called to order at 5:40 pm by Chair McCarthy

Present: Commissioners Alexander, Danfoura, Enssani, Fuentes, Haile, Jones, McCarthy, Melgarejo, and Ng.
Not Present: Commissioners Gonzalez (excused), Moses (excused), Perez (excused), and Lingad-Ricci (excused).
Staff Present: Adrienne Pon, Executive Director-Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs; Sally Leung, Executive Coordinator; Richard Whipple, City Hall Fellow; Whitney Chiao, Public Administration Intern; and Carlos Sanchez, Intern

2. Welcome & Introductions (Commissioner Angus McCarthy, Chair)
Chair McCarthy welcomed everyone to the comprehensive immigration reform symposium and introduced the Immigrant Rights Commission. The Immigrant Rights Commission is responsible for advising the Mayor and the Board of Supervisor on issues related to immigrant communities and tonight is the second of two hearings to look at the most pertinent issues related to immigration policy reform. In April 2009, the commission held a joint hearing with the Human Rights Commission to listen to testimony on the impacts of federal immigration enforcement policy. The purpose of the symposium is to hear testimony from national experts on comprehensive immigration reform and use this to help guide the Commission’s recommendations. Chair McCarthy then introduced the IRC’s partners for the event, as well as department heads. He announced that after the panelists spoke, people who wanted a chance to speak could do so by filling out a public comment card.

3. Greetings by Board President Chiu and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, 13th Assembly District

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu thanked the IRC and its partners for holding the symposium to discuss the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. He believes that the last ten years have been bleak for immigrants nationwide; there have been numerous ICE raids, a backlog of legalizing immigrants, and families who have been torn apart. President Chiu formerly worked as an immigration lawyer and visited ICE centers, and believes that now is a good time to begin discussing comprehensive immigration reform. The statement that immigrants are illegal has become outdated, and he hopes that as San Francisco pursues immigration reform, California, and then the nation, will follow. He then introduced former Supervisor, now Assemblymember, and fighter for many causes, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano thanked President Chiu for the introduction. Assemblyman Ammiano has been involved in many causes for San Francisco for different groups of people who have been discriminated against,  such as the moratorium on IQ testing in schools after the tests were shown to be culturally biased. He stated that elected officials cannot ignore policies such as Sanctuary City Ordinance and the Municipal City ID card. In Sacramento, problems are acknowledged, but then ignored. He Ammiano also discussed the potential issues that will arise if health care reform passes, such as how children of undocumented individuals will receive health care without worrying about deportation. The Assemblyman concluded his greetings by saying that San Francisco holds a lot of responsibility, and if anything, is a city of opportunity for its residents.

4. Keynote Address: Framing the Immigration Reform Debate (F. Daniel Siciliano, Faculty Director of Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and Stanford Law School Associate Dean)

Mr.Siciliano stated that Immigrants have a successful record in the last 200 years, and especially in the last 25 years. There is a positive impact of immigrants of all types, because they bring an effort to community and economy building. Although the theory is not quite yet quantifiable, it is known that children of skilled and unskilled immigrant workers are on average higher achievers. There are an estimated eight to eleven million undocumented immigrants in the United States who are cut off from the economy- in difficult times, this is unbeneficial to the economy, as undocumented immigrants are on average net contributors.  Mr. Siciliano outlined the economic contributions of immigrants. The issue is not about keeping people out, but letting the right people in. Future studies will examine the impact of immigrants on small to medium sized businesses, showing very tangible benefits to supporting immigration reform. Studies regarding the impact of immigration on the United States and the economy will become more quantifiable in the next three years.

5. Panel Discussion

Director Pon framed the discussion and introduced the panelists. U.S. immigration policy has become a confusing patchwork of contradictions and controversy, resulting in the scapegoating of immigrants and a broken system out of tune with reality.  The question is how to create a fair, humane and just immigration policy and system that solves the problems but also holds true to the ideals upon which this great nation was built. Symposium panelists are experts on the subject of comprehensive immigration reform. The panel discussion began with dialogue from each of the panelists, followed by testimony, and then concluded with a panel discussion. The four panelists are Cindy Avitia, Mary Giovagnoli, Bill Ong Hing, and Nelly Reyes.

a. Panelists Remarks

Cindy Avitia is the Congressional assistant to Representative Zoe Lofgren, chair of the Immigration subcommittee. Ms. Avitia feels a personal connection to her work, as she is the only member of her family born in the United States, and her career has always revolved around immigration. Ms. Avitia provided an update on comprehensive immigration reform legislation being written. In June, President Obama met with the House and the Senate, and to begin creating a consensus on the bill. The legislation is still following the timeline given, but has been pushed back slightly due to the healthcare debate. Many ideas for the bill have already been written, but the committee wants a bill that will have bipartisan support and will unite the nation. Ms. Avitia is grateful to be at the symposium to hear from the experts, and the people from the community who come to share their story.

Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council, thanked the Commissioners for the opportunity to come speak because she feels that it is important that the Immigrant Rights Commission takes part in the issue. She believes that in order to move forward, the whole country must support the bill, that currently the public will seems to be there, but not the political will. Ms. Giovagnoli worked at INS for 13 years, and then worked in Senator Ted Kennedy’s office before moving to her current position. Ms. Giovagnoli believes that successful comprehensive immigration reform is like solving a Rubik’s Cube; if we focus on solving one side of the issue or cube, other sides are often neglected. In this debate, people tend to focus on the legislation, but not the present issues and needs. In 2008, the perception of immigrants has become more positive, as no legislation that is detrimental to immigrants was passed, and immigrants became more politically active, as observed in the votes of swing states during the 2008 presidential election. For many, the issue becomes frustrating because progress is slow, but change is happening. In order to keep moving forward, people from different parts of the community, the non-traditional voices, need to inform Congress to spur them to action.

Bill Ong Hing, Professor of Law at UC Davis, started working with immigrants as an immigration lawyer in 1974, and at the time was the only immigration lawyer who practiced in Northern California. Mr. Hing still works with immigrant clients and sees various pressing needs. He is concerned with what will be given up in order to facilitate passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation. In order to pass the bill before spring, some provisions may include forcing undocumented immigrants to admit they committed a crime in entering the US, increasing funding for employer sanctions, and increasing border control. Mr. Hing advises that when the proposed legislation comes out, people must be ready to speak out against the provisions. People will still be entering the U.S.  because the economies are imbalanced and because for some, immigration is a matter of life or death.

Nelly Reyes, an immigrant rights advocate and law services provider, spoke of the issues that she has seen in her work. In recent years, the number of clients who are immigrants has increased. Many families buy a single house together, but when a family member is deported by ICE, the family has trouble paying for the house and the other family members are at risk for being deported. Mrs. Reyes would like to see a media campaign that highlights the benefits of immigrants and dispels the negative myths regarding immigrants. She believes that the community must be engaged; that people are afraid to come, but the government wants people to help, and that people need to be aware of the positive things immigrants bring to the community.

b. Invited Testimony

Prernal Lal was brought to the United States when she was 14, approximately ten years ago from Fiji, when her parents applied for a green card for her. The family was unaware that the process would take 10 years, and that when she turned 21 she would have to reapply for the green card. Now, her residency has timed out, despite having waited for nine years, and is in limbo; she cannot stay in the US, but cannot return to Fiji. She has formed a group called Dream Activist, which is made of undocumented students waiting for the DREAM Act to pass so students can stay in the US and fight to stay in the country they call home.

Andy McKay is the owner of a small business and spoke of the troubles he faced when he expanded his company to the United States. Since 2002, he has faced trouble renewing his visa despite previously holding a visa. His interactions with rude immigration staff complicated the process. The long struggle required a lot of traveling between the United States and the UK, which created stress for his family and his business. The processing fees, created extra costs, and the process meant time spent away from operating his business.

Shirley Tan is a mother and housewife from Pacifica, California who fled to the United States after her cousin killed her mother and sister in the Philippines, and attempted to kill her. He was sent to jail, but Ms. Tan feared for her life after his release.  Her request for political asylum was denied.  She has been with her partner Jay Mercado for 23 years. They married in 2004, are active in their community, and together are raising their twin sons. On January 28, 2009, ICE agents range her bell, placed her under arrest and took her to jail without informing her of why she was there.  She was allowed to return to her family, but forced to wear an ankle monitor. Ms. Tan’s partner and children are citizens, but her partner cannot petition for because she is not male. Ms. Tan urged the audience to support the American Families Act, which will help everyone who is in the same situation, in order to help keep families together.

Melanie Nathan, Shirley Tan’s lawyer, immigrated to the US in 1988, and recently was forced to choose between living with her same-sex spouse or her daughter. Ms. Nathan stated that in order to improve life and civic participation, the United American Families Act must be included in the House and Senate’s bills for comprehensive immigration reform. The bill may face obstacles, as groups, such as religious groups, will support comprehensive immigration reform, but not the United American Families Act. She urged the audience to speak out, that family unity is a cornerstone of immigration, and that real comprehensive immigration reform includes everyone.

c. Moderated Panel Discussion

Panelists were asked 1) how the testimony impacted them and how they believed enforcement could be dealt with; 2) to provide a reality check on the legislative process and compromises that comprehensive immigration reform advocates may face; 3)  whose voices needed to be heard by Congress in regards to comprehensive immigration reform; 4) how the dialogue could be leveraged for reform; 5) how to convey the importance of the census to the community and overcome fear and intimidation, despite efforts to boycott and demand immigration reform as a condition for participation; and 6) what were their top recommendations to the IRC for action and support of community.

6. Remarks from Officials

There were no additional comments from public officials.

7. Public Comments

Amos Lin stated that he identified with Andy McKay’s testimony because he faces the same challenges when he renews his visa. Every time he leaves the country to renew his visa, he is scared that his visa will be rejected and he will be unable to return to the United States. If he declares that he is married, his ability to return to the US is affected as well. He urged the Commission to support comprehensive immigration reform that is indeed comprehensive and includes families.

Nadia Babella, staff member of the Human Rights Commission, which works with people from discriminated categories, invited the audience to a forum that the Human Rights Commission is holding on November 17, 2009 on the impact of immigration on same-sex couples.

Lupe Arreola, staff member of the Human Rights Commission, stated that the Human Rights Commission enforces the Sanctuary City Ordinance, which was created in 1989 and prohibits San Francisco from providing resources or assistance to ICE. With comprehensive immigration reform, Ms. Arreola hopes that people continue to defend the Sanctuary City Ordinance to ensure everyone has due process and equal access.

Jeanne Tadeusz, staff member of the Human Rights Commission, added that any individual aware of a violation of the Sanctuary City Ordinance can file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. Complaint forms are available at the meeting and on the HRC website, and are confidential. People are not required to give their names, just information so the HRC can follow-up and see if abuse occurred.

Lupita Figueiredo thanked the Commission for providing Spanish interpreters at the meeting, and stated that if the Commission really wanted to engage the community, they should announce the Police Department’s recently revised policy on towing vehicles and create a stance against the San Francisco Chronicle, which has written biased articles against immigrants. She was angry that there were no Spanish-speaking people giving testimony and stated that she appreciated the Commission’s efforts but wanted to go onto the next step.

Karl Krooth, from the American Immigration Lawyers Association asked people to consider the alternative situation where the US would not get comprehensive immigration reform. In 2007 and 2008 there were discussions related to lowering the threshold of papers required to deport to include immigrants. This policy currently applies to only terrorism and drug smuggling, and lowering the threshold would invalidate the policy of reasonable doubt. He also informed the audience that if Congress passed division of courts, appeals that went to DC circuit court of appeals would no longer go to a court specialized for immigration.

Bart Murphy, President of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, came to speak on behalf of the 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants, and his experiences in lobbying. He believes there is no substitute for direct lobbying, that people can walk through the doors of the federal government and find someone who will listen to them. He also believes that holding out for the ideal comprehensive immigration reform bill may not be in the best interest of communities, that holding out may impede the good, and cost immigrants comprehensive immigration reform.

Nina Reyes Rosenberg, daughter of Nelly Reyes, stated that because she was raised in San Francisco, she has grown up in a political climate and seen how polarizing the issue of immigration is. She stated that we are all immigrants and a part of the same society, and that our nation is facing a moral crisis when family values clash with political agenda.

Commissioner Melgarejo thanked everyone, especially those who represent the immigrant rights movement, who have come out to events and participated in the struggle for immigrant rights. She believes that the commission played an important role in changing the Police Department’s car impoundment policy that change happens when people organize and push for change. She noted that two of the four panelists were Spanish speaking and members of the community.  She believes that this is a good start for San Francisco’s immigration reform movement.

Commissioner Haile asked Professor Hing if he found anything positive in the comprehensive immigration reform debate. He said that the priorities of the Department of Homeland Security has changed, and that people have proposed good ideas for reducing the backlog of applicants, but is still cautious about how things will turn out after observing the healthcare reform process.

Commissioner Danfoura added how political ideology played a part in Congress’s position for immigration reform, and how ideology has become more positive in the last few years. Immigration has been used as a scapegoat for issues that people are actually angry about, and that the current challenge is getting people to see that anti-immigration is anti-American.

8. Adjournment

Chair McCarthy concluded the event with closing remarks, stating that the symposium was a good recharge, that there is hope for comprehensive immigration reform. He thanked the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, and the IRC’s partners and panelists for making the event possible.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:10 pm by Chair McCarthy.