As mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom in 2008 spearheaded a citywide policy requiring law enforcement officers to report juvenile undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement when charged with committing violent felony crimes.
Newsom, a Democrat and the front-runner in the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, now says that was the wrong approach.
“These were people charged ... but not convicted. Some people ultimately were exonerated that got caught up in it,“ Newsom said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “I’ll just say this to my critics: fair game. Looking back, there were things we could have done differently. I’m very honest about that.”
His comments come amid Democratic outrage over President Donald Trump’s policy, since reversed, of separating immigrant children from their families upon entering the country. Newsom has sought to position himself as best-suited to lead California as it wages war on the president and his immigration policies.
In retrospect, the focus should have been on those convicted of, not charged with, violent felonies, he suggested.
In the interview, Newsom characterized his policy of reporting juveniles to ICE as a compromise to protect San Francisco’s “sanctuary” ordinance, which forbids the city from using its resources to aid federal immigration agents except in criminal cases. He said the sanctuary law — the first of any city in the nation — was threatened, under intense scrutiny following the killing of a San Francisco man and his two sons by an undocumented immigrant and MS-13 gang member from El Salvador.
“It was devastating and it exposed some gaps in our sanctuary policy,” Newsom said about the killing of Tony Bologna and his two sons Michael and Matthew. “We were the poster child for the (sanctuary) policy. Then we had this tragic example where someone was in our custody ... a MS-13 young person (and when he was) released, came back and shot three members of a family.”
In instituting the policy targeting undocumented youths, Newsom sparred with fellow Democrats on the city’s Board of Supervisors who said he was violating constitutional due process rights.
“He went from one extreme of not reporting any juveniles to the other extreme of reporting any juvenile, including children pretty young, the moment they’re accused of a violent crime,” said David Campos, a San Francisco supervisor from late 2008 to January 2017.
“What I said at the time is that’s wrong because you are reporting and deporting kids who were wrongly accused,” Campos said. “What we were saying is ‘Look, this is having a very negative impact of separating families.’”
Campos proposed and the city passed an ordinance that said the city would report juveniles once convicted of violent felonies, but Newsom vetoed it. When a majority of the board later overrode his veto, Newsom simply ignored the ordinance.
Campos said he’s prodded Newsom about his position on the issue in recent years.
“It sounds like he was admitting a mistake, and I give him credit for that,” Campos said. “He has more power and standing to criticize Trump if he can admit that a mistake was made.”
Republican John Cox, Newsom’s rival in the governor’s race who has touted his endorsement by Trump, criticized Newsom as a flip-flopper.
“As usual Gavin Newsom wants it both ways. As San Francisco mayor, Newsom policy reported undocumented youth to ICE — he was for it before he was against it,” Cox said in a Facebook post July 3. His campaign did not respond to several interview requests to discuss his criticism.
Cox last month backed Trump’s approach on family separations and echoed his rhetoric, saying June 18 that “I hope that we get a congressional solution very soon.”
Campos, who is now chairman of the San Francisco Democratic Party, noted the criticism by Cox but said he has “no standing” to weigh in because he is aligned with Trump.
“What Newsom did is wrong ... but John Cox, by virtue of being a Trump person and supporting Trump, he has no credibility in criticizing Gavin Newsom on this,” Campos said.
He said if Newsom is elected governor, he has a responsibility to fight the federal government on immigration.
“Due process is so critical now because you have Trump talking about how he wants to deport people without due process. That’s what Newsom did, he deprived these youth of their due process rights,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been so critical of Gavin, while he has tried to be this champion of sanctuary.”
He said he was glad to hear that Newsom understands what he saw as a major flaw on his record.
Trump two weeks ago called on Congress to take an approach on immigration in which undocumented immigrants are deported without due process, saying on Twitter that “When people, with or without children, enter our Country, they must be told to leave without our Country being forced to endure a long and costly trial. Tell the people ‘OUT’ and they must leave, just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn.”
Newsom, a strong supporter of California’s 2017 “sanctuary state” law, said at the time in San Francisco, “we did what we needed to do.”
But, having attacked the president for his stance on immigration, on Twitter calling him “a disgrace,” Newsom is shifting the tone on his past ICE policy.
“The criticism is fair on the due process side. You don’t know the unintended consequences at the moment, but you look back and obviously those were legitimate,” Newsom said. “If I could do that one over again, I would have done it with more nuance.”