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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos, in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Few issues in this country are as contentious as the battle over illegal immigration. This morning, we'll be talking with the governor of a border state that's cracked down hard on illegal workers and the people who hire them.

AMOS: But first, we'll go to San Francisco, a city that's under fire over its policy of providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants. Things got heated recently after one of those immigrants was linked to a triple murder - then yesterday, a clash on the steps of city hall, as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

(Soundbite of chanting)

RICHARD GONZALES: On one side stood about a dozen members of the Minutemen. It's the group that patrols the U.S./Mexico border to discourage illegal immigration. They came here to denounce San Francisco's sanctuary policy for illegal immigrants, but they were greatly outnumbered by hundreds of chanting immigrant rights activists.

(Soundbite of chanting)

GONZALES: The standoff - loud, but otherwise peaceful - lasted for about an hour, during which time Minutemen Founder Jim Gilchrist spoke to reporters inside a relatively quiet City Hall.

Mr. JIM GILCHRIST (Founder, Minutemen): We're demanding that Mayor Gavin Newsom resign - not that he's an incompetent person, but that he deliberately neglected to put the safety and the well being of his city before his pandering for the illegal alien population, all of whom should not have been in San Francisco in the first place.

GONZALES: For the past two decades, San Francisco has called itself a sanctuary city, meaning it has a policy of not automatically turning over illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Gilchrist blames that policy and Mayor Newsom for the brutal deaths of 48-year-old Anthony Bologna and his sons, Michael, age 20, and Matthew, age 16.

Last June, the Bolognas were returning home from a family barbeque when someone in a passing car opened fire on them with an AK-47.

Mr. FRANK KENNEDY: This has changed the landscape of our family forever.

GONZALES: That's Frank Kennedy, the victim's brother-in-law, attending a hearing for the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Edwin Ramos. Police say Ramos, an alleged gang member, murdered the Bolognas under the mistaken belief that they were part of a rival gang. Like many people in the city, Kennedy is incredulous.

Mr. KENNEDY: Being a native San Franciscan, you know, I never thought anything like this would happen.

GONZALES: In June, the San Francisco Chronicle first revealed that city officials were keeping juvenile immigrant offenders away from federal authorities. After a public outcry, Mayor Gavin Newsom rescinded that policy.

Mr. GAVIN NEWSOM (Mayor, San Francisco): We've always said that you'll be deported if you commit felonies. That's been the case in the adult system. There's been this loophole in the juvenile system. That loophole has been closed.

GONZALES: But not before the alleged killer, Edwin Ramos, was shielded from deportation as a juvenile, even after being arrested and convicted for two violent offenses. Ramos wound up a free man until he was picked up last March on a weapons charge. Once again, he faced possible deportation. But the Ramos case got tangled in a miscommunication between the San Francisco sheriff's department and immigration officials, and Ramos was once again back on the streets.

(Soundbite of chanting)

GONZALES: Yesterday, the triple murder Ramos is accused of was a backdrop to the drama playing out at city hall. Here's Minuteman Owen Jones of Fremont, a San Francisco suburb.

Mr. OWEN JONES (Minuteman): You know, the message is getting out.

GONZALES: What is the message?

Mr. JONES: The message is we want to see an end to sanctuary cities across the nation. We want our laws enforced.

GONZALES: Maria Publett(ph) is a spokeswoman for the immigrant rights activists.

Ms. MARIA PUBLETT (Spokeswoman, Immigrant Rights Activists): We showed to the Minutemen what the people of San Francisco have known for a long time, which is we are a city that has, as a value, equal rights for immigrants, and that when somebody comes to challenge that right, the people of San Francisco will defend it - both immigrants and non-immigrants, people who share that value.

GONZALES: For his part, Mayor Newsom has ordered a top-to-bottom review of San Francisco's sanctuary law.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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