San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
S.F. officials pay visit to border to see children
San Francisco elected officials and local immigration leaders traveled to the border to learn about the surge in unaccompanied children crossing it. The city saw an influx of migrant children in the past and likely will again, officials said.
Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney, and school board president Gabriela López joined the trip last weekend, organized by community organizations, to Tijuana on Sunday and San Diego Monday to meet with nonprofits and migrants. They also rallied outside San Diego’s convention center, transformed into a federal shelter with a capacity for 1,450 children transferred from overflowing border facilities, to show solidarity and demand children be quickly unified with families or sponsors.
San Francisco has welcomed unaccompanied migrant children for years and funds their free legal representation. With an unprecedented new surge in border crossings, advocates expect more kids will end up in the Bay Area. Officials said the trip informed possible policies such as creating a support network for local families who want to foster children.
“To me, it’s the human rights crisis of our time,” Ronen told The Chronicle. “Many of these children end up in the Bay Area and in San Francisco public schools and the trauma that they undergo ... follows them here.”
The trip was organized by a coalition of five local community organizations as part of a campaign in Biden’s first 100 days advocating for immigration reform.
“We feel that letting children across the border is not enough,” said Lariza DuganCuadra, executive director of San Francisco nonprofit Central American Resource Center of Northern California, who spearheaded the trip. “They must have the right to legal counsel. They must be guaranteed their best interest, which is to be with their families.”
On Twitter, dozens of commenters chastised supervisors for focusing on children 500 miles away instead of the city’s problems, including reopening schools, homelessness and the drug crisis.
Supervisors said they were working off and on throughout the day Monday on calls with staff and Zoom meetings, including joining the Latino Task Force virtually for an update on vaccinations. López and Haney paid their own way. Ronen’s trip was paid for by the nonprofit
“Many of these children end up in the Bay Area and in San Francisco public schools and the trauma that they undergo ... follows them here.” Hillary Ronen, San Francisco supervisor
with a grant. Walton said his trip was a combination of personal funds and nonprofit support.
Walton shot back at critics by citing success in the city’s pandemic response and a recent budget surplus that directly helped vulnerable residents. Haney said it was “absolutely a part of his job.” Ronen said she had a moral and practical responsibility to care about children who might end up in San Francisco.
“If people don’t think that city leaders should understand and learn about the roots of where they’re coming from and why and how we can better serve them, then they should not vote for me in the future,” she said.
López said that as a teacher, she welcomed many new immigrant students into classrooms, and met the San Diego school superintendent to learn how to help more in the future.
“It is imperative that we not forget the experiences our children are going through to get here, and we continue to not only welcome and foster their learning, but also have the necessary perspective of the realities they are facing,” she said.
When numbers of children crossing the border spiked in 2014, hundreds ended up in San Francisco. Supervisors voted to fund free legal representation for unaccompanied minors and families with children. That funding birthed the San Francisco Legal Immigrant Defense Collaborative that represents 1,200 migrants, half of them unaccompanied children.
In the most recent numbers from October 2019 to September 2020, 57 children were released from federal custody to the care of sponsors in San Francisco, according to federal data. Though former President Donald Trump used a public health rule to expel undocumented migrants to prevent the spread of COVID19, President Biden is not deporting children under that rule.
On Sunday, the coalition went to Tijuana to meet with organizations supporting families waiting on asylum claims. In San Diego on Monday, the coalition met a 14yearold U.S. citizen separated from his mother and nonprofit workers running the federally funded shelter. The coalition also gave donations to the shelter.