SAN FRANCISCO - Immigrant rights advocates view the Board of Supervisors' unanimous passage of a package of immigrant rights ordinances last week as a valuable first step to ease the fears of the immigrant community and fight back against immigrants' loss of benefits under the new national welfare law.
The supervisors - the equivalent of a city council - issued a seven-point program which declares the city and county a "safety zone" that will not discriminate on the basis of a person's immigration status, urges the state's Congressional delegation to work to change the new welfare law to protect immigrants' rights, sets up a task force primarily of immigrants to advise the board and mayor on immigrant issues, and includes steps to encourage citizenship for all eligible immigrants.
The measures also call for a fightback against anti- immigrant hate crimes, and empowerment of immigrant communities by providing translators at Board of Supervisors meetings, committee and community meetings.
The ordinances were proposed by Supervisors Mabel Teng - herself an immigrant of Chinese background - Amos Brown and Leslie Katz. They stemmed from the testimony of hundreds of immigrants at a dramatic meeting last September.
"With this vote, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to adopt legislation of this nature," Sasha Khokha of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights told the World. "We hope this will be a precedent for other local governments," she added.
Larisa Casillas of the Interfaith Coalition for Imm@grant Rights cautioned that last week's actions mean the city and county will continue to provide services until the state legislates otherwise - not that it has taken up responsibility for funding the services.
Despite those limitations, she said, the measures "are helping to calm the fears of the immigrant community to know the Board will do what it can to alleviate the impact" of welfare changes. "But the impact is going to be felt regardless."
Gordon Mar of the Chinese Progressive Association called the board's actions the fruit of a campaign begun by immigrant rights organizations after anti-immigrant Proposition 187 passed in 1994. He said the organizations are studying ways to make sure the policies are implemented "in the strongest possible way." In addition to pressing the state's Congressional delegation for action at the national level, Mar said they are exploring ways of funding programs at the local level.
The new ordinances point out that ending entitlements to immigrants will cost the State of California over $10 billion in the next six years, while in San Francisco itself, an estimated 16,000 mainly elderly residents would lose Supplemental Security Income, about 26,000 residents would lose MediCal eligibility and "countless others" would lose AFDC and food stamp benefits to the tune of more than $164 million per year.
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