Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Panel discusses deportation


Heriberto "Beto" Martinez Nolasco, left, and his partner, Eric Bernacki spoke at a February 22 panel about resisting mass deportation. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Local officials joined actor Danny Glover last week for a discussion about resisting mass deportation and San Francisco remaining a sanctuary city in the age of President Donald Trump.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi moderated the discussion. Adachi reiterated his support and pride in San Francisco's status as a sanctuary city.

"With that status comes a responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected," Adachi said during the February 22 event at the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library. "We have to make sure that individuals are protected."

Adachi cited the Immigration Act of 1924, which was signed into law by then-President Calvin Coolidge. The 1924 law severely limited the number of Asians, Italians, and Jews who would be allowed to immigrate to the United States.

According to statistics that were provided, San Francisco has 1,500 detained immigrants, of whom 67 percent have no legal representation. Only 22 percent of the detainees had criminal records. California currently has 44,000 undocumented immigrants, of which 91 percent were employed.

Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, and James Brosnahan, senior counsel at Morrison Foerster, underscored the importance of legal representation, noting that when immigrants have an attorney by their side, they are five times more likely to win their case.

Heriberto "Beto" Martinez Nolasco and Eric Bernacki, a gay couple who've been together for more than a decade, shared their story. They recalled immigration agents knocking at their door at 7 a.m., while the couple were still sleeping. Martinez Nolasco was taken away in handcuffs; Bernacki was not told where Martinez Nolasco would be.

"He screamed my name. An ICE officer blocked the entrance to our home. I was told that getting a lawyer would be worthless. I was helpless," Bernacki said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

It was June 2016, and Martinez Nolasco had been picked up because of a 2015 drunk driving conviction, according to a Bay Area Reporter story last year.

Martinez Nolasco, who has been in San Francisco for about 12 years, spoke of the deep depression he felt while in custody.

"There was no communication for four days," he said.

"I spent that whole first day trying to track Beto down," Bernacki recalled. "I was not allowed to see Beto."

With the help of an attorney, Martinez Nolasco was released. The B.A.R. asked the couple if getting married would entitle Beto to a green card. They said they weren't sure.

"It's possible, but difficult," said Marks.

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer spoke in tears about a Mexican exchange student who lived in her home while attending classes at San Francisco State University. She referred to the student as a family member and added that both families were now close friends.

"This issue is personal," Fewer said. "I feel ashamed of what this country is doing to immigrants – immigration policies in the United States are inherently racist."

Fewer has proposed an immigrant legal defense fund, which is due to be discussed at the March 2 meeting of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. Fewer is carrying a plan for $5 million of funding that was first proposed by gay former District 9 Supervisor David Campos. The money would be spent on hiring immigration attorneys who would represent undocumented immigrants in court.

The proposal was discussed at the committee's February 16 meeting and continued to Thursday.

Several panelists spoke of the fear with which many illegal immigrants are forced to live. Those include fear of being returned to third world countries, some of which have policies of violent oppression against their own peoples.

Glover recalled his immigrant friends during his Fillmore district childhood. He also spoke of his work years ago at the Mission Readers Clinic.

"I remember how vibrant the Mission was because there were support systems," Glover said. "Race does matter. Whether we're Asian, Latin, or black this is the civil rights and human rights issue for the 21st century."

The audience was urged to contact their city and state lawmakers to express support for immigrant rights and to participate in marches. Glover cited a little known quote from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King: "Always preach to the choir. They may start singing."


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