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First Asian American sheriff in California vows to protect immigrants

SAN FRANCISCO — The first Asian American sheriff in California history walks over to a closet inside his City Hall office to stow some equipment, then takes a seat behind a large desk. He extends his arms, fingers interlaced.

“So,” Sheriff Paul Miyamoto says casually as if to imply that he isn’t sure what all the fuss is about. “What would you like to know?”

On the one hand, as the son of a Japanese American father and a Chinese American mother and the husband of a Filipino American wife, Miyamoto is well aware his election represents an inspirational milestone for a new generation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a broad group often referred to by the acronym AAPI.

On the other, as a 23-year department veteran who was sworn in last month as San Francisco County’s 37th sheriff in 150 years, Miyamoto sees his rise up through the ranks simply as a result of hard work in his beloved profession.

“Being the first sheriff of my heritage is humbling, and it gives me a sense of responsibility to be a role model,” he says. “But what I’d really like is for us to never have any more firsts. I’d like us to be on an equal footing. Hopefully, I’m a step on that path.”

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, the first Asian American sheriff in the history of California, was sworn into his new position on Jan. 8, 2020.

The election of a new sheriff with a familiar immigrant backstory has particular resonance these days.

President Donald Trump and his administration have not only taken a hard stance toward immigration broadly but also have clashed with so-called sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, where lawmakers and advocates have pledged to resist the sweeps of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on the grounds that they are unconstitutional. 

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Brett Gonzalez
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