A federal criminal investigation is underway in San Francisco to determine whether juvenile probation officers are shielding Honduran youths caught selling crack cocaine from prosecution and deportation.
According to a report Sunday in the San Francisco Chronicle, the drug offenders reportedly are being protected from prosecution and federal deportation under the city’s immigrant sanctuary status, which prevents minors from being subject to the same U.S. immigration laws as adults.
Officials say the influx of young crack dealers from Honduras, and other nation states, has been on on-going problem in recent years.
The law, investigators say, is allowing city officials to circumvent the system by handling the cases in juvenile court, where proceedings often are shielded from the public.
City officials in San Francisco are trying to balance their obligations under federal and state law with local court orders, and San Francisco's policies aimed at protecting the rights of the young immigrants who are often victims of exploitation, The Chronicle reports.
Federal authorities counter the city’s explanation by pointing out that the juvenile immigrants instead are being exploited by the drug kingpins operating within the system, and not the system itself.
It’s just another way, they contend, drug dealers are “gaming the system.”
Minors arrested for selling crack and other illegal street drugs often give false names and addresses to shield themselves from the same laws that apply to adults; however police suspect many actually are adults, but have a hard time confirming it due to lack of identification.
The federal investigation is also looking into why several arrested Honduran minors have been provided city-paid flights back to Honduras rather than being shipped off to the California Youth Authority to answer to charges.
A city law in place since 1989, which defines San Francisco as a sanctuary city for immigrants, also is marring up the works. The law, among other things, bars city officials from cooperating with federal immigration investigations.
The city's stance, according to William Siffermann, chief of San Francisco's Juvenile Probation Department, is that it is not the duty of the city to report illegal immigrant minors to the federal government, even if juvenile immigrants have committed a crime.
"We are not obligated to [report them]," Siffermann says. "We are abiding by the sanctuary city ordinance."
Federal officials, however, point out that it is unlawful for any U.S. citizen or agency to help an immigrant cross a border, even if it is to return home.
"Our job is to uphold the nation's immigration laws," says Greg Palmore, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "Although San Francisco is a sanctuary city, it's a problem whenever someone attempts to evade the law,” he says.
“Our law does not allow us to turn a blind eye to any individual who has come into this country illegally."
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