Board of Supervisors appoints the first DACA recipient to serve on a Commission

Following the passage of Prop C, San Francisco makes history by appointing Sarah Souza to serve on a city body

Sarah+Souza%2C+exalumna+de+SF+State+y+beneficiada+de+DACA%2C+es+una+defensora+firme+de+los+derechos+de+los+inmigrantes+y+va+ser+la+primera+el+la+alcald%C3%ADa+a+representar+la+poblaci%C3%B3n+de+inmigrantes+indocumentados+de+San+Francisco.+%28Kyran+Berlin+and+Lucky+Whitburn-Thomas+%2F+Golden+Gate+Xpress%29

Kyran Berlin

Sarah Souza, exalumna de SF State y beneficiada de DACA, es una defensora firme de los derechos de los inmigrantes y va ser la primera el la alcaldía a representar la población de inmigrantes indocumentados de San Francisco. (Kyran Berlin and Lucky Whitburn-Thomas / Golden Gate Xpress)

On Tuesday, one day after International Women’s Day, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved Sarah Souza’s appointment to the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission. 

Alongside SF State’s engineering professor Elahe Enssani, the board appointed Souza to the commission Tuesday afternoon in a unanimous vote. Souza will become the first undocumented immigrant to serve on a San Francisco city body.

“The commission provides a voice for the underserved and underrepresented, and an opportunity for members of the community to be informed, engaged and able to participate in meaningful ways,” said Director of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs Adrienne Pon in an interview with Xpress.

 The commission hears directly from the community and from service organizations, and advises the mayor and the Board of Supervisors on programs and policies that benefit all San Franciscans, not just immigrants.

“I’m so excited to be voting on appointing her. I have seen her grow in her leadership and just be an amazing advocate for immigrant communities, and also be politically active and bring other people into the cause,” Supervisor Myrna Melgar said at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Souza has a long history of fighting for immigrants’ rights in San Francisco. She has been a San Francisco resident after immigrating from Brazil when she was 15 years old. She served as president for the Latino Democratic club from 2019 to 2020 and now works as an aide for Supervisor Aaron Peskin. She is the first Dreamer working in City Hall. 

“We’ve never had her voice in City Hall before,” said Gabriel Medina, who served as vice president of political affairs for the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club alongside Souza. Since she is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, he recalled her bravery fighting for immigrant rights during the Trump administration. 

Souza has been a trail-blazing San Franciscan, as well as an SF State alum and Mission High School graduate. In November, she championed the passage of Proposition C, which allows undocumented immigrants to serve on city bodies, including herself.  

“I’m so excited that we were able to get Prop C pass, which will now allow her to serve on a commission … For her not to be able to be put in a position where she could lead and provide input and be a part of our democracy in a matter of serving on a commission or a special committee was an injustice,” board President Shamann Walton said.

According to Supervisor Peskin’s Chief of Staff Sunny Angulo, Souza helped draft Peskin’s Urging Resolution to amend its by-laws and allow non-citizens in Assembly District Elections. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the resolution in November, which took effect late last year.

“I look forward to the California State Democratic Party finally making good on all of Sarah Souza’s very hard work. It has been heartbreaking to see the lack of progress on this front, particularly with the overwhelming support and hard work of Latino/as in particular,” said Angulo in an email to Xpress.

Sarah lives and breathes this reality, and is a fierce champion of immigrants struggling on so many levels, but also the solutions that can help to uplift them.”

— Sunny Angulo

The Commission for Immigrant Rights supported the charter amendment. The amendment removes U.S. citizenship from the requirements to serve on a city body. The only requirements now needed are that a person be above voting age and a San Francisco resident.

“I would love to have Miss Souza join the commission. We worked with her during the 2020 census and know her from our dream SF Fellows Program. She’s such an inspirational leader, and her voice is sorely needed on that commission,” said Director Pon in a board meeting on Feb., 22. 

Alongside other candidates, Souza spoke before the Board of Supervisors to consider her appointment to the commission. 

 “I deserve a seat at the table to speak on behalf of the undocumented community who has been left out of the table … As Harvey Milk once said, ‘Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard,’” Souza said at the meeting.

Souza spoke of her achievements and why she should serve on the commission. Souza called the board to appoint leaders that understand the experiences and challenges they work on because they live through them every day, like her experience as an undocumented immigrant during the Trump administration.

“Coming out as someone who’s undocumented and publicly about that. Then fighting for basically equal rights, not just for herself … you know, at risk of retaliation from our federal government to fight for an important segment of our community,” said Medina citing her ‘fire’ and bravery as an important leadership quality during her term as president.

First established in 1997, the Immigrants Right Commission requires that 8 out of its 15 seats be held by immigrants. According to Pon, immigrants make up one-third of San Francisco’s population, and 35% of small businesses are immigrant-owned. Currently, the commission has members representing Eritian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Irish, Mexican, Salvadorian, Colombian and Iranian communities. The IRC unties San Franciscans from different communities in the fight for all immigrants. 

“Sarah lives and breathes this reality, and is a fierce champion of immigrants struggling on so many levels, but also the solutions that can help to uplift them. She is gentle and compassionate and a wonderful listener,” Angulo said.

Souza was reached out for comment, but was not available for an interview.