While Congress Stalls, San Francisco Gets Ready for Federal Immigration Reform
When the GOP-majority House finally moves forward on immigration reform -- or not -- San Francisco will already have the machinery in place to help shepherd thousands of undocumented immigrants through the sea of bureaucratic red tape to quickly become citizens.
On their way ... to becoming citizens
But first the city has to hone its outreach methods. For that, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor David Chiu announced this week that the city will launch a three-year initiative to help "inform and support" the city's 100,000 "citizenship-eligible immigrants" to gain citizenship.
That 100,00 number is an estimate of how many immigrants with legal immigration status live in San Francisco, but who are not yet citizens. They could be legal permanent residents, asylum seekers, or refugees -- people for whom there are already options in existing immigration law to reach citizenship that would give them the right to vote, seek certain federal scholarships, or other benefits.
The city will put up $200,000 out of the general fund annually over the program's three-year tenure, which will be matched by six partner charity organizations, including the Asian Pacific Fund and the San Francisco Foundation.
"We want to get ready comprehensive immigration reform," says Sandra Hernandez, chief executive officer of the San Francisco Foundation. "Part of that is building capacity to put many more people through the citizenship process."
Dubbed (big breath) the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, the actual outreach to "by-and-large low-income communities" will be performed by community-based nonprofits with access to immigrants, including Self-Help for the Elderly, and Asian Law Caucus, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Catholic Charities CYO, International Institute of the Bay Area, Jewish Family and Children's Services, and La Raza Community Resource Center.
"It's not us putting up a shingle and saying come to us, it's them using their networks to reach this community and convince them that citizenship is in reach," Hernandez says.
That includes reaching people in their native languages.
Cue the Minutemen Project's rage and conservative's fury. But what else is new? San Francisco has found all manner of ways to rankle anti-immigrant hawks through the years -- actually it's one of the city's favorite progressive pastimes, along with banning plastic bags and marrying gays.
First came the Sanctuary City Ordinance in 1989. In 2009, the city started issuing city ID cards to people regardless of legal status. In recent years, the Sheriff's Department locked horns with the feds over identifying undocumented immigrants in the county jails.
So what do these "citizenship-eligible immigrants" look like? The Mayor's Office says more than 60 percent are Asian Pacific Islander, and more than 80 percent are working age adults, between ages 18 and 64.
Lee argues that legalizing them directly benefits the city, "by lowering poverty rates, increasing economic mobility and access to higher education, ensuring greater access to affordable health care, enhancing civic participation, and creating stability and cohesion for immigrant families," he said in a statement.
Now it just depends on Washington ironing out exactly what "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants this project will have to share. Get on it, Congress -- San Francisco can't do everything for you.