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News + PoliticsOpinionWhy immigrants are worried about SF's Proposition E

Why immigrants are worried about SF’s Proposition E

The measure would undermine the Sanctuary City policies.


In my six years of living in San Francisco as an immigrant, Proposition E is one of the most dangerous ballot measures I’ve seen. It will give the San Francisco Police more power to use surveillance technology to discriminate against immigrant communities.  

I moved from El Salvador to San Francisco with my children to flee the violence and seek better economic opportunities. I have felt safe here and am grateful for the opportunities and resources that exist in San Francisco. 

The cops still have a long way to go to work with immigrant communities

Despite my hopes of making San Francisco our new home, I have experienced racism at the hands of the SFPD. Once when my coworkers and I called police for help, the responding officers treated us poorly and instead of feeling supported, we were afraid. Ultimately, we decided not to file a police report. 

It’s clear that the police still have a lot of work to do to address rampant racial bias against immigrant communities.

Public safety is a top issue for many San Franciscans, including Latine immigrants like me. But giving SFPD unchecked access to untested and highly invasive surveillance technology such as face scanning-drones and long-range listening devices will make all of us less safe.

There is a history of American law enforcement using surveillance to force immigrant communities to assimilate. We don’t have to look far to see what happens when we enable police to use intrusive technology to spy on residents. In 2019, the New York Times reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in at least three states used facial recognition technology to scan driver’s license databases, despite these states never passing laws enabling ICE officials to do so. 

Not only is this a violation of people’s privacy, but facial recognition is often inaccurate. Detroit’s Police Chief said if this technology alone was used to identify someone, it would misidentify about 96% of the time. People of color are at a higher risk for being misidentified. In fact, Black and Asian people are 10 to 100 times more likely to be misidentified, and the system’s algorithms struggle to tell the difference between people with darker skin. The stakes are particularly high for noncitizens who could face deportation if they are wrongly identified by facial recognition technology.

Prop. E also would expose undocumented immigrants to police surveillance that could put them at risk for deportation. Because of the risk of deportation, many undocumented immigrants refrain from seeking healthcare, resources, and even emergency help. If SFPD could spy on our communities, the fear felt in these communities would deepen even further. This is not becoming of San Francisco’s reputation of being a safe place for immigrants. 

Although San Francisco today is a Sanctuary City—meaning police departments are not legally allowed to share their data with ICE—that doesn’t mean it never happens. The ACLU found that more than 80 local law enforcement agencies across the country informally handed over driver information to ICE in direct violation of these policies.

There’s also no guarantee that San Francisco will forever be a Sanctuary City. In fact, just recently, there were threats of chipping away at our status as a Sanctuary City that might show up on the November ballot. 

I know people are eager for our city to feel safer. There are ways we can address crime, but the solutions must be crafted with input from immigrant communities. If a proposed solution puts a group of people at further risk of harm and abuse, that is not true public safety for all. 

San Francisco leaders should commit to evidence-based solutions for reducing crime—like investing in quality education, creating living-wage jobs, building more affordable housing, and making mental health resources and substance use treatment available to all who need it. 

San Francisco is home to immigrants from all over the world who have found community in neighborhoods like the Mission, Japantown, Chinatown, Russian Hill, the Excelsior and the Sunset. We’ve created new homes while holding our homelands close to our hearts. We’ve opened restaurants, painted murals, and started community organizations to share in our wealth of culture, creativity, and meaning with all San Franciscans. Immigrants are the heart of San Francisco.

At a time when immigrants feel threatened across our country more than ever before, we must continue to be a home that welcomes people from all over the world to keep building a San Francisco that thrives on diversity. Prop E would do the opposite.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram


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