San Francisco touts services for illegal immigrants

Times Staff Writer

This city has long considered itself a compassionate place, promoting gay marriages and expanded homeless welfare programs.

Now officials are extending a very public welcome to undocumented workers.

This week, the city launched a campaign featuring TV and radio ads, billboards and bus signs reminding residents of its status as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. The $83,000 blitz will include brochures distributed at police stations and hospitals, promising safe access to city services regardless of residency status.

“We’re inviting people to come out of the shadows and take advantage of services,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. San Francisco has tried to make this point clear for years.


Since it became a sanctuary city in 1989, the city has barred employees from assisting federal officials with immigration investigations or arrests. But Newsom said recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in San Francisco and the Bay Area convinced him the city needed to do more.

City officials wanted to remind illegal workers that the city would not play a part in any possible discrimination they might encounter at the hands of the federal government, the mayor said.

While numerous communities -- including San Jose, Oakland, Seattle and Miami -- consider themselves sanctuary cities, none of the others has launched a campaign to advertise that fact, officials here say.

Los Angeles does not consider itself a sanctuary city, but officials say police will not take part in federal immigration raids. “Our officers are not immigration officers,” said Matt Szabo, a spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

A spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich called San Francisco’s program “a tragedy.”

“It’s an insult to the people who waited in line and filled out forms so they would do things right,” said Tony Bell. “For them, it’s a slap in the face.”

Newsom deflected such criticism. “We’re not trying to convince people in Los Angeles,” he said. “We’re trying to assist people in our own city and county.”

San Francisco’s ads -- written in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian -- encourage residents to seek services and report crimes without fear of being deported.

Newsom, a Democrat who is considering a run for governor in 2010, said he hopes it will have an effect at shelters and psychiatric intake units.

He acknowledged that much of the reaction to the sanctuary program has been negative, attracting even more criticism than his stand on gay marriage.

“We’ve heard from ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ types,” he said. “But we’re convinced that this is the right thing to do.”