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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

S.F. fund aids teen felons who are illegals

As San Francisco's juvenile justice system shielded young illegal immigrant felons from possible deportation, Mayor Gavin Newsom's office gave grants totaling more than $650,000 to nonprofit agencies to provide the underage offenders with free services - everything from immigration attorneys to housing assistance to "arts and cultural affirmation activities," city records show.

Newsom has said the city began its policy of not referring young immigrant offenders to federal authorities for deportation under previous mayors, and that he reversed the practice after he became aware of it this year. However, in 2006, the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - a community outreach arm of Newsom's office - created a grant program specifically designed to assist, rather than deport, "undocumented, unaccompanied and monolingual" immigrants who were in the custody of the city's Juvenile Probation Department or on juvenile probation, according to city documents.

The city provided $467,000 to three nonprofit agencies under the grant program from mid-2006 and mid-2008, records show, and another $200,000 was approved for two of the agencies for this budget year.

Newsom's office created the program, in part, to deal with an influx of Central American youths being housed on drug charges at San Francisco's juvenile hall, according to those familiar with the grant. Crowding at juvenile hall had led to protests among youth advocate groups.

"A key goal of this project is to assist these individuals to successfully navigate the juvenile justice system and achieve stability within the community setting," according to a 2006 invitation issued by Newsom's office for agencies to bid for grant money.

The grant language said the youths "require extensive support" to overcome "multiple complex barriers" in the justice system.

Money for the effort came from the pot of discretionary funding that the mayor's office receives each year as part of the city budget.

'Proud tradition'

The goal of the grant program, according to the request for bids, was to further the city's "proud tradition as a haven for immigrants."

In addition to immigration attorneys, Newsom's office envisioned the program helping young felons obtain housing, food, clothing, educational and vocational training, English-language instruction, medical care and mental health assessments.

The program would also provide "spiritual, cultural enrichment and recreation activities."

Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of California and a critic of San Francisco's past policy of not turning over undocumented juvenile immigrant felons for deportation, said the mayor's office was funding programs that might be violating federal law.

"What it means to me," he said, "is they took the concept of sanctuary, and they applied it in a way that it is as close to harboring as I've ever seen."

Federal law bars people from knowingly harboring undocumented immigrants. Russoniello said the city grant program relied on young immigrant offenders staying in the juvenile justice system, away from federal authorities who might want to deport them. [Mark Godsey]

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