Honduran Migrants and the San Francisco Drug Trade

San Francisco's former DA tried to use ‘sanctuary’ laws to justify sanctuary for criminals in general

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 21, 2022

I recently explained that then-San Francisco District Attorney (DA) Chesa Boudin (D) was refusing to prosecute Honduran national drug dealers in his city on trafficking charges to prevent their removal. RealClear Investigations (RCI) did a deep-dive into the “criminal chaos” in the city’s Tenderloin area, explaining why those Central Americans play a key role in the drug-dealing there. It reveals how the line between human trafficking and smuggling has been blurred, and how Boudin tried to use the concept behind “sanctuary” laws to create a sanctuary for criminals.

Chesa Boudin Update. I refer to him as the “then” DA because Boudin — who took office in January 2020, following a stint in the public defender’s office — lost a recall election on June 7, with 60 percent of voters calling for his ouster. That leaves San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) to choose his successor.

Breed has been openly perturbed (to put it mildly) by the recent upturn in crime in the City by the Bay, and announced an “end” to the “the reign of criminals who are destroying our city”, so Boudin’s successor will likely implement some very different policies.

The Tenderloin. The RCI piece, as noted, focuses on “the Tenderloin”, a 30-square block neighborhood in the center of town that, for good reason, is a synonym for “skid row”. It is roughly bounded by Geary Street in the northwest, Van Ness Avenue in the west, Mason Street in the east, and Market and Turk Streets to the south and southeast (San Francisco is laid out on two separate grids meeting at Market).

Setting the scene, RCI explains that in the Tenderloin:

Tents fill the sidewalks. Addicts sit on curbs and lean against walls, nodding off to their fentanyl and heroin fixes, or wander around in meth-induced psychotic states. Drug dealers stake out their turf and sell in broad daylight, while the immigrant families in the five-story, pre-war apartment buildings shepherd their kids to school, trying to maintain as normal an existence as they can.

Speaking of drugs, in February, NPR reported that more than 1,360 people in San Francisco had died of drug overdoses in the past two years, mostly in the Tenderloin and in the neighboring SOMA (south of Market) neighborhood, “more than double the total COVID-19 death toll there”.

The Players. RCI breaks the players in the drug trade in the Tenderloin into several different groups: “The Dealers”, “The Boosters”, “The Fences”, and “The Larceny Industry”, including so-called large-scale “diverters”.

The Boosters are the drug addicts who turn to large-scale shoplifting at the city’s stores to feed their addictions. The article quotes Lt. Kevin Domby of the California Highway Patrol, who describes “boosting” as “basically a job” for the drug dependent there.

Not that much has been done at the government level to stop their trade in the recent past, because as the outlet explains: “Like drug use and drug dealing, shoplifting has been effectively decriminalized in San Francisco, and some chains have reduced their presence in the city.”

RCI explains that the Fences are individuals — “often middle-aged Latino men or elderly Chinese men and women” — some of whom troll the Tenderloin and nearby United Nations Plaza seeking out the boosters, and some of whom run their operations out of “nondescript storefronts” (which are legion in the area).

They buy the stolen goods from the Boosters, and many then resell them in their own stores in the area, “while others source for larger wholesale fencing organizations that launder the goods through online retailers on Amazon, EBay, or Facebook Marketplace”. As RCI explains:

Often, Domby says, fences will text the boosters on WhatsApp or Snapchat or on a private Instagram page and tell them what products they’re in the market for: Tide Pods or cold medicines with long expiration dates or makeup or razor blades. Then, the boosters fill those orders, stealing as much as they need to get their next fix.

The Larceny Industry occupies the two to three levels of the fencing industry above those “street-level fences”, with wholesalers — who “amass $100,000 to $200,000 worth of merchandise each day”, at the top of the heap.

Those wholesalers then sell to “diverters”, who in turn “repackage[] the stolen goods in counterfeit packaging and” sell them online. Five national diverters, dominating the trade in goods stolen from nationwide drug-store chains, “sell more than $20 million in product a year.”

Were this a depiction of a licit industry, it would be a model for our broken supply chain. As Calvin Coolidge once said, however, “the chief business of the American people is business”, and you will notice that “Silent Cal” made no distinctions between honest business and the other side of the law.

The Honduran Drug Dealers. RCI also profiles the dealers who start the ball rolling in this process, explaining:

The drug pushers are easy to spot: Unlike the users, they look healthy and wear clean clothes. They’re almost universally young men, mostly Honduran (on the streets of San Francisco they’re called “Hondos”). You see them standing on street corners on every block in the Tenderloin selling pills out of prescription drug bottles and white and colored powders out of plastic sandwich bags — fentanyl, meth, heroin, cocaine.

Boudin’s Take, and RCI’s Assessment. Boudin admitted in a tweet that as many as half of all drug dealers in San Francisco were Honduran nationals, but he contended that many had “been trafficked here under pain of death”:

The RCI reporting contradicts Boudin’s narrative, however. The outlet asserts that cartels do smuggle Hondurans into the United States at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 per person. Those aliens then work to pay off the cartels by selling drugs, which they can do in a couple weeks’ time. As per RCI:

Once they repay the cartel, they’re free to do whatever they want. Usually, they stick with drug dealing, because no other job can make them that much money with so little risk. Dealers in the Tenderloin typically make about $1,000 a day for an eight- to 12-hour shift.

Nor does Boudin’s assessment make much sense on its face.

No other DA — or “progressive” activist for that matter — that I am aware of has argued that Honduran males (or any other specific nationals) are being trafficked to their cities or states and forced “under pain of death” to sell drugs.

While it is possible that cartels abroad would force otherwise law-abiding Honduran males to come to this country and peddle narcotics, logically those cartels would send their trafficking victims to cities and towns across the country — not to a handful of neighborhoods in northern California.

As for the specific example Boudin cites, a former client whose father in Honduras was killed years before after he had cooperated with federal authorities “in another state”, two things stick out.

First, it’s common for criminal organizations of all stripes to retaliate against criminal confederates who dime them out to the authorities; this is not a phenomenon specific to alien trafficking victims.

Second, even after his father was killed for cooperating with the federal government “years before”, Boudin’s client went back to selling drugs — which is why he later became Boudin’s client (the erstwhile DA admits he was guilty). Respectfully, that suggests that the unidentified individual was a common criminal with a well-paying gig — not a “trafficking victim”.

Blurring the Line Between Trafficking and Smuggling. Boudin’s assertions blur the lines between trafficking and smuggling. As ICE differentiates between the two activities:

Human trafficking involves exploiting men, women, or children for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Human smuggling involves the provision of a service — typically, transportation or fraudulent documents — to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country.

There’s some overlap between smuggling and trafficking, as where smuggled aliens are forced into “debt bondage”, that is, “tricked into working for little or no money to repay” a smuggling debt. As the RCI reporting indicates, however, debt bondage is not an issue among Honduran drug dealers in San Francisco, for whom repayment is quick and business so lucrative that many stick around after the debt is paid.

The Next Stage of “Sanctuary” Laws. Here is the interesting thing about Boudin’s arguments, however. Most “sanctuary” laws claim that they protect “immigrant communities” and the public at large.

For example, the “California Values Act” states:

Immigrants are valuable and essential members of the California community. ... A relationship of trust between California’s immigrant community and state and local agencies is central to the public safety of the people of California. ... This trust is threatened when state and local agencies are entangled with federal immigration enforcement, with the result that immigrant community members fear approaching police when they are victims of, and witnesses to, crimes, seeking basic health services, or attending school, to the detriment of public safety and the well-being of all Californians.

I have previously explained that “sanctuary” laws only provide sanctuary to alien criminals, but I usually had to do so by way of analysis, that is, by explaining that the alien criminals who are not removed return to prey on what are usually their own immigrant communities.

Boudin simplified the analysis by offering what is, essentially, the “next stage” of sanctuary laws. Specifically, the former DA used his blanket claim that all Honduran drug dealers in San Francisco had been “trafficked” as an excuse to avoid prosecuting not only them, but most other drug dealers, too.

As I noted in my earlier post, Boudin’s office secured just three total convictions for possession with intent to sell drugs in 2021. By contrast, Boudin’s predecessor, current Los Angeles DA George Gascón, oversaw 90 drug-dealing convictions in 2018.

There were 403 opioid overdose deaths in San Francisco in 2020, a 203 percent increase over 2018 according to the California State Overdose Surveillance Dashboard. In 2021, there were 641 total overdose deaths in the city, of which 477 alone were related to the opioid fentanyl. Logically, if overdose deaths were increasing, use was rising, which means sales were growing, too.

Despite these facts, Boudin’s office had no convictions for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl in 2021.

Stripped of their pretense, sanctuary laws are simply a state and local rejection of the federal government’s power to remove aliens from the United States. When they are stripped of their pretense, Boudin’s arguments for refusing to prosecute Hondurans for possession with intent to distribute are nothing more than his rejection of California’s laws against drug dealing.

San Francisco voters have rejected Boudin’s vision of criminal “justice”. Perhaps voters in California and other “sanctuaries” nationwide will next reject the anti-enforcement views of other proponents of such laws. Such an outcome is questionable, but if it can happen on the shores of the Golden Gate, it could happen anywhere.