Editor’s note: The following is an op-ed from Frank Seo, a member of ASPIRE in San Francisco.
As an undocumented immigrant residing in San Francisco, it has been difficult for the last few weeks. On July 1st, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented male allegedly shot and killed Kathryn Steinle. There are no words to describe the pain her family members are currently undergoing. One can only express condolences to her family members and friends for their loss.
And yet, opportunistic politicians, pundits, and anti-immigrants immediately seized this tragic moment to advance their hateful agenda. Well-known racist bigots such as Donald Trump and Steve King used this tragedy to scapegoat the entire immigrant community. They began to demonize while disregarding context, facts, and other crucial information. To them, an undocumented immigrant causing this tragedy is enough to sensationalize the issue. Once the issue sensationalized nationally, many allies and pro-immigrants became silent and refused to stand with the immigrant community.
Not surprisingly, the mainstream media is busy delivering that messages across the country. The fact that he has no record of violence does not matter. The fact that the firearm that was fired did not belong to him and it actually belongs to a federal agent does not matter. The fact that Federal officials turned Lopez-Sanchez over to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in March does not matter.
Currently, San Francisco’s smart policies the media is describing as ‘Sanctuary City status’ became the immediate target of the central debate. San Francisco, along with more than 200 state and local jurisdictions are not cooperating with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The main reason San Francisco and hundreds of other cities adopted such a measure since the 80’s was in recognition of city residents without proper status and in an effort to improve trust between local law enforcement and the immigrant community. More recently, cities rejected ICE’s program S-Comm (now called PEP) because it racially profiles the immigrant community, causes mistrust of local law enforcement agents among immigrants and makes them less likely to report a crime they witness. Not to mention programs like PEP criminalizes and violates the constitutional rights of the immigrant community. And yet, ICE and opportunistic politicians are now demanding San Francisco to blur the line between federal and local jurisdictions once again.
Beyond San Francisco, there is a threat from Washington targeting community trust policies nationwide. In the case of California, Senator Dianne Feinstein is joining Donald Trump’s bigotry and harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric to roll back great civil and human rights progress. Targeting community trust policies would have devastating consequences to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. The deportation machine operating under the Obama administration has already separated more than 2 million families.
As an undocumented immigrant who was in deportation proceedings and only saved by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA, I am fully aware of the lasting scars an individual being torn away from his or her community and family caries.
At the moment, there are rumors circulating within the immigrant community that ICE is launching raids in cities who have rejected its unconstitutional requests. Immigrant rights organizations are circulating know your rights infographics to prepare for such raids. This is a painful and somber reminder to immigrant communities just how easily our basic protections and rights as human beings can be taken away.
The rhetoric and raids and terrible proposals are bad but perhaps most troubling aspect is the silence of ‘allies’ or ‘pro-immigrants’ who simply abandon the immigrant community once we seem undesirable. Hillary Clinton’s heavy emphasis on the word ‘deport’ when asked about the tragedy, clearly revealed her true colors despite her campaign’s effort to portray herself as a pro-immigrant candidate.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We will remember the silence of our so-called allies or friends who kept silent when the immigrant community needed their support most.
Lastly, in difficult times like this, community members, activists and organizers who worked tirelessly for immigrants’ rights must unite together. As an undocumented immigrant and an activist living in San Francisco, I witnessed times where different community members gather together to support one another. I believe we will do it again. I know my city will overcome this difficulty. I know my city can do better and find solutions together.
Frank Seo is an immigrant rights activist based in San Francisco. He has been involved with the immigrant rights movement after he moved to San Francisco through ASPIRE, the country’s first pan-Asian undocumented immigrant youth group. He currently teaches underserved high school students.