2017 Third Place Writing Winner

Hannah Alani

Third Place
Indiana University
$3,000 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion

Winning Stories

News Story from Interview | Personality/Profile | Spot News

News Story from Interview

City attorney maintains confidence in sanctuary city case

SAN FRANCISCO – President Donald Trump’s latest attack on San Francisco took the form of a vaguely worded financial provision, tucked away in the proposed federal budget and initially appearing to be in the billions of dollars.

But after days of “fighting back” for further clarity, the threat seems futile to city attorney Dennis Herrera, who at a Tuesday press conference reaffirmed his lack of faith in the White House.

“You really can’t trust this administration,” he said during the conference. “You have to double-check everything … You can’t take anybody’s words at face value.”

Herrera assured reporters last week’s budgetary scare will not deflate his current case against the president, which challenges the constitutionality of Executive Order 1373. Trump signed EO 1373 in January in an attempt to deny federal funds to “sanctuary cities” whose law enforcement agencies refuse to aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportations, unless presented with a warrant.

In late April a federal judge ruled in favor of San Francisco and ordered a halt on EO 1373. The day after the budget proposal’s May 22 release, Herrera said in a press conference as much as $2 billion could be at risk for the city. In the past week, however, Trump backed down on that number, which is now less than $10 million.

“We’re not gonna lose,” Herrera said with confidence Tuesday.

That may be true for San Franciscans. Some of the other 600 sanctuary jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade County in southern Florida, for example, could not afford the financial risk of going against Trump and agreed to assist in ICE deportations. Undocumented immigrants face a nationwide 40-percent increase in arrests since Trump was elected, according to The New York Times.

Former city attorney and Herrera’s predecessor Louise Renne attributed the power of the city attorney to San Francisco’s dual role as both a city and county — rare in local municipalities. During her 16 years as city attorney Renne said she never imagined a scenario in which she would sue the president.

“Whoever thought it would have to come to this point, I don’t think any of us ever thought it would,” she said. “Dennis absolutely made the right decision.”

San Francisco retail worker and Oakland native Jena Perry said she supports sanctuary cities but worries about the precedent this lawsuit’s success could set.

“Just sue the president. It’s great if Dennis Herrera can do it,” she said. “And San Francisco has its own progressive town. … But Texas? Alabama?”

Perry, who is black, left the Bay Area briefly to live in Austin, Texas, where she realized how insulating San Francisco liberalism can be. In Tuesday’s press conference Herrera reflected on bipartisan politics and noted former President Ronald Reagan’s approach to immigration, which did not include “paths to citizenship,” but instead offered outright asylum to immigrants.

Herrera said the federal government’s failure to secure the country’s borders forces the immigration issue onto local government’s shoulders and into the hands of city attorneys. Border control is one of the few areas outside the military to see an increase in funding and Trump’s proposed $2.7 billion increase for border security and immigration enforcement includes a specific allocation of $100 million to hire more than 20,000 new border agents.

Herrera said he believes local and state lawsuits may become crucial to protecting the constitutional rights of undocumented immigrants.

“Checks and balances are only as good as the people who have the strength and courage to play by the rules of the game,” he said. “We have nothing but an autocratic leader.”

Back to top


Dogpatch neighbors keep city attorney Dennis Herrera grounded, honest

SAN FRANCISCO – On a quiet street in the southeastern part of the city, the lunch rush dies down. If a certain city attorney were to drop by Just For You Cafe this afternoon, server Nery Garcia knows what he would order: iced tea and chili con carne.

In Dogpatch, where Dennis Herrera has lived since he moved to San Francisco in 1988, residents know the city attorney as the man who takes long walks on the weekends, the boyhood Mets fan reborn a Giants fan, the attentive father. If the City and County of San Francisco is his first client, his neighborhood is a close second. Garcia, 56, immigrated to Dogpatch from Guatemala over twenty years ago, and knew Herrera before he took on an unprecedented legal battle for immigrant protection. He said he trusts Herrera to protect him.

“He takes care of my community,” Garcia said.

Herrera may be on the precipice of national fame and glory as the first city attorney to successfully sue a sitting United States president. But at the end of the workday and on the weekends, Herrera fights another battle to keep Dogpatch a small, tightknit community where local cheese and butcher shops reign over Whole Foods.

Herrera said he’s always been a “grounded” person.

“By nature, I’m still pretty much the guy I was,” he said. “I try to be unassuming.”

Apple art director and Dogpatch resident David Jedd said he bumps into Herrera about once a week. Herrera’s candid conversations make it clear he is concerned about Dogpatch, and cares about the evolution of the neighborhood, Jedd said.

“Other places in the city, people don’t leave their apartments,” he said. “But here, you get to know the people you live with.”

Herrera grew up fishing off the coast of New York and always loved the water. That’s why an article on the second page of the Washington Post sports section – a call for striped bass fishing off San Francisco’s Seal Rocks – caught his eye. He visited San Francisco on Thanksgiving in 1986 and slipped his resume under several attorneys’ doors. One called back, and the next summer Herrera came back for an internship. He moved to San Francisco in 1988. In 1993, Herrera and his wife, Realtor Anne Herrera, bought and renovated a 2,900-square-foot Victorian home, and now live there with their son, Declan, and their two cats, Dixie and Indie.

When Herrera left New York he left behind his establishment political roots. His late father, a Colombian immigrant, was a staunch Republican. Herrera voted as a Republican in his first election. He re-registered as a Democrat in the next one. But it was in Dogpatch where Herrera explored community organizing and the Bay Area’s progressive political scene. In 1990 he joined the Waterfront Plan Advisory Board and later campaigned for former President Bill Clinton, an effort that paid off when newly elected President Clinton appointed Herrera to the U.S. Maritime Administration in 1993.

Herrera, who attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said he feared the threat of becoming “bureaucratized” if he overstayed his federal welcome. That’s why he regularly returned home to visit family and moved back to San Francisco after a couple of years.

“That kept me in touch with things here,” he said.

After Herrera’s return, then mayor Willie Brown appointed Herrera to the San Francisco Transportation Commission and the San Francisco Police Commission. After just one year of service, Herrera was voted president of the SFPC. In 2001, Herrera ran for office, and was publicly elected the first Latino city attorney in San Francisco.

He never abandoned his neighborhood.

Just For You Cafe owner Arienne Landry moved her business from neighboring Potrero Hill to Dogpatch in 2002. Herrera, who lived a couple blocks away from the cafe in his rehabilitated Victorian home, quickly welcomed Landry to the area. She met his young son and wife, and the Herrera family became regular customers.

Reno’s Liquor store owner Dames Shouman said he has know Herrera since he moved to Dogpatch from New York in the late 1980s. Shouman, 45, employed Declan Herrera, 15, briefly this year with an unpaid job stocking supplies in the store. Declan would come by during his breaks after school, Shouman said.

“Dennis wanted him to get a job, for his character, to learn what it means to work,” Shouman said. “He told me not to go easy on him, so I was really hard on him.”

When Herrera comes into Reno’s, he never talks about work, Shouman said. Instead, he talks about the Giants and Mets games. Regardless of what sports team he roots for or how he grew up thinking politically, Herrera has become a true San Franciscan, Shouman said. He still takes long walks to the ball park or to the water.

“Sometimes you realize, ‘there’s nothing wrong with the way I was raised, but there’s also nothing wrong with what’s around me, either,’” Shouman said. “That’s just becoming part of a community.”

After fighting and winning a decade-long landmark case for marriage equality, Herrera is now in the midst of possibly his greatest legal challenge yet: a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 1373. In an administration as untrustworthy as Trump’s, Herrera said, politics and progressive change must come from the bottom-up. As a result, attorneys wield the power, which is great for San Francisco. But self-described “unassuming” Herrera says he doesn’t enjoy the celebrity status of being a high profile politician.

He is regularly mentioned in national news articles. Even in his own neighborhood, people stop him and ask to take pictures. But politicians are not movie stars, and when in public life, “you can’t get caught up in the celebrity,” Herrera said.

“America runs a risk of devaluing what politics is about, what public service is,” he said. “We’re there to do a job.”

Back to top

Spot News

‘We feel invisible’: Bay Area undocumented Asian/Pacific-Islander communities feel unacknowledged in fight for survival

BERKELEY – The 10th grader didn’t know what box to check, so he lied.

Benyamin bin Mohd Yusof, then 16, knew he wasn’t an official United States citizen. But the pre-SAT’s wording around “non-resident alien” didn’t seem right, either. He had lived in Long Beach, Calif., with his mother, three brothers and dogs since the age of 2. The only language he knew was English.

That night his mother, a native of the Philippines, brought him into her bedroom and locked the door. She was too scared to say the words aloud, so instead, she whispered.

“We have no papers.”

That was about five years ago, before the divisive 2016 election thrust Mohd Yusof’s life into the national discourse, and long before the President made it a priority to kick him out. Under President Donald Trump, agencies have cracked down on immigration law enforcement, creating fear and panic among immigrants of all backgrounds. Community organizing and media narratives tend to be grounded in stories about Latin-x immigrants. But in California, Asian and Pacific-Islanders – “APIs” – make up 13 percent of the state’s undocumented immigrant population. A cultural fear of and stigma toward dissent has long kept APIs from discussing immigration, even within their own homes. Through free legal referrals and support groups, Bay Area community organizations and legal advocacy groups aim to help APIs protect themselves.

For Mohd Yusof, a recent University of California-Berkeley graduate, simply being “out and unafraid” is crucial.

“APIs are invisible, but we are a vulnerable immigrant community,” Mohd Yusof said. “These narratives need to be told, whether or not a community has the ability to tell it themselves.”

After his mother told him he was living in the U.S. illegally, Mohd Yusof’s world changed. He only told his two best friends what he had learned. The following year, while Mohd Yusof was at school thinking about the real SAT and what colleges to which he wanted to apply, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer came to his home.

ICE arrested and detained his older brother. Their mother, who valued her children’s education above all else, waited until Mohd Yusof got home from school to tell him what happened. Together they visited the detention center, where his brother was applying for former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a program that allows children who arrive in the U.S. under the age of 16 to stay. His brother was granted DACA status, released, and went on to open a few California restaurants.

Mohd Yusof, 21, is DACA-eligible, but choose not to apply when he came of age. Berkeley offered him a full-ride scholarship to study cell biology, so he did not need DACA status to receive a work permit.

“I always felt safe at Berkeley,” he said, adding that it was during college when he first told strangers about his immigration status.
Under President Trump’s policies Mohd Yusof remains DACA-eligible, but the government is not accepting new applications. And even DACA recipients are not safe from deportations.

Border Patrol agents in Calexio, Calif,. detained and deported a 23-year-old DACA recipient who did not have his ID on his person when stopped, according to an April story in the Washington Post. The man had moved to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 6, the Post reported. Government officials claimed the man left voluntarily.

Mohd Yusof came to the U.S. when he was 2-years-old. He was born in Brunei, a small Muslim-majority country in Southeast Asia. His mother, who is from the Phillipines, moved her four sons away from Mohd Yusof’s father in Brunei to Long Beach. As a toddler Mohd Yusof grew up speaking English. He does not know his mother’s native language, Tagalog. He has only met his father once. If deportation became a reality, he said he is unsure which of the two countries – his birth home of Brunei or the Philippines, where he inherited his mother’s citizenship. He has never been outside in the U.S.

Chinese for Affirmative Action, a non-profit in San Francisco, offers free legal aid to APIs facing deportation. In California alone, 412,000 APIs identify as undocumented, making up 13 percent of the state’s undocumented population, CAA Immigration Rights program director Hong Mei Pang said. In San Francisco alone, there are almost 14,000 undocumented Chinese immigrants.

Cultural stigmas attribute to the gaps and disparities in the narratives around how undocumented communities are identified and discussed, Pang said.

“We want to shift the public narrative to help people understand, fundamentally, why people immigrate,” she said. “The API pattern is not simple. There is complexity across ethnicities and their legal needs.”

Despite cultural stigmas within these communities, case referrals have spiked, and CAA hopes to hire more employees.

In March, Mohd Yusof toured several Ivy League medical schools. His favorites were Yale University and University of Pennsylvania. He realized, however, that his passion lies in Southeast Asian studies, and now he hopes to go to grad school.

Without DACA status, however, he cannot work.

“I always thought that if I don’t pursue the American Dream, then my mom risked everything and brought me here for nothing,” he said. “I can’t give up.”

He graduated this spring with two degrees in cell biology and Southeastern Asian studies. But under President Trump’s new policies, he’s not sure what comes next.

Back to top