"Not in my back yard..."
San Francisco is one of the most progressive cities in the nation, especially when it comes to national immigration, notes San Francisco Chronicle's Vincent Woo.
We believe so much in the natural right of people to join us here in America that we fought to keep our status as sanctuary city even in the face of being federally defunded for it. We pride ourselves on our rejection of plans to tighten immigration controls and deport undocumented immigrants.
Yet, Woo exclaims, take that same conversation to the local level and all bets are off.
City meetings have become heated, divisive and prone to rhetoric where we openly discuss exactly which kinds of people we want to keep out of our city.
This is an ethically incoherent position. If we in San Francisco so strongly believe that national immigration is a human right, then it seems strange to block migration into our own neighborhoods.
Consider the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ decision to challenge the environmental review of a proposed housing project at 1515 Van Ness Ave. Despite the project’s plan to rent 25 percent of its units at a below-market rate, many members of the neighborhood preservation group, Calle 24, expressed anger that the project might bring tech workers into the Latino Cultural District.
Or that members of the Forest Hill homeowners association opposed a project that would build affordable housing for seniors and the formerly homeless on a site now occupied by a church. One of the grievances aired was that it might bring mentally unstable or drug-addicted people into the neighborhood.
Both of these groups are reacting to the threat of change. In both cases, residents took it as a given that they were within their rights to control who lived in their neighborhoods.
Conservatives see national immigration as a privilege to carefully dole out. Liberals see immigration as a human right that needs to be protected. San Francisco progressives view living in certain neighborhoods as a privilege to be earned, and see nothing wrong with preventing certain groups of people from moving in, a traditionally conservative view.
Tech workers have now become the most visible of those whom neighborhood groups seek to exclude. Tech workers have been been cast as shallow opportunists who indifferently displace existing residents. However, most tech workers who move here are simply migrants from less affluent parts of the country. They’re people from places like the Midwest who are just trying to find good jobs in one of the last functioning economic engines in the country. If we believe that San Francisco should be a shelter for people from less prosperous countries, why shouldn’t it also be a shelter for people from less prosperous parts of our own country?
Even more pointedly, more than a third of Silicon Valley tech workers are immigrants themselves. For many people in China, India and Eastern Europe, working in technology is one of the few ways out of their countries and into ours.
Neighborhood activists want to protect their vision of San Francisco, and that is absolutely a noble purpose. However, blocking future residents isn’t the way to go about it. How would you even do it?
The current approach of attempting to just halt construction hasn’t proven effective at preserving neighborhood aesthetics. To truly control who lived in a neighborhood, you’d have to create some official tribunal that would essentially have the ability to vet applicants by their demographics. This is would be very dangerous and likely illegal. It’s hardly a progressive idea to deliberately institutionalize exclusionary policy.
If we really believe that migration is a human right and not a privilege extended at the discretion of current residents, then we need to acknowledge that neighborhood meetings where people feel entitled to debate the virtues of future residents are antimigration by definition.
We need to acknowledge that making room for, say, an Indian tech worker on an H1-B visa who is trying to get a green card serves the very same ideological purpose as making room for an undocumented worker from Mexico.
Once again the progressive agenda can be translated as the elite establishment liberals exclaiming "do as I say, not as I do..it's the fair thing to do."