San Francisco has come under fire for its policy of providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants, and the situation has heated up after one of those immigrants was accused of killing three people.
On Wednesday, a standoff on the steps of San Francisco City Hall included about a dozen members of the Minutemen, the group that patrols the U.S.-Mexican border to discourage illegal immigration. The group came to denounce the city's sanctuary policy.
They were greatly outnumbered by hundreds of immigrant rights activists chanting, "Racists, go home!"
The competing demonstrations — loud but peaceful — lasted for about an hour.
"We're demanding that Mayor Gavin Newsom resign," Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist told reporters inside City Hall. "Not that he is 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."
San Francisco has called itself a "sanctuary city" for the past two decades — meaning it has a policy not to automatically turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Gilchrist blames that policy and Newsom for the brutal deaths of Anthony Bologna, 48, and his sons, Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16.
In June, the Bolognas were returning home from a family barbeque when someone in a passing car opened fire on them with an AK-47. Police have accused Edwin Ramos, 21, who they say is a gang member, of killing the Bolognas under the mistaken belief that they were part of a rival gang.
Like many in San Francisco, Frank Kennedy, the victim's brother-in-law, is incredulous. "Being a native San Franciscan, you know, I never thought anything like this would happen."
The San Francisco Chronicle first revealed in June that city officials were keeping juvenile immigrant offenders away from federal authorities. After a public outcry, Newsom rescinded that policy.
"We've always said that you'll be deported if you commit felonies," Newsom said. "That's been the case in the adult system. There's been this loophole in the juvenile system. That loophole has been closed."
But not before Ramos was shielded from deportation as a juvenile after being convicted of two violent offenses. He was free until he was picked up last March on a weapons charge. Once again, he faced possible deportation, but Ramos' case got tangled in a miscommunication between the San Francisco sheriff's department and immigration officials.
The killing of the Bolognas was a backdrop to the drama playing out at City Hall on Wednesday.
"The message is we want to see an end to sanctuary cities across the nation," said Minutemen member Owen Jones of Fremont, a San Francisco suburb. "We want our laws enforced!"
Maria Poblet, a spokeswoman for the immigrant rights activists, said San Francisco is a city that values equal rights for immigrants.
"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," she said.
For his part, Newsom has ordered a "top-to-bottom review" of San Francisco's sanctuary law.