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Alioto softens sanctuary city proposal following blowback

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San Francisco mayoral candidate Angela Alioto speaks at a forum put on by the Dignity Fund Coalition at the Herbst Theatre on April 26, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Facing backlash from City Hall, one of the top candidates in the San Francisco mayoral race has weakened a proposed ballot measure that would have gutted protections for undocumented immigrants booked into County Jail.

Though former Supervisor Angela Alioto had claimed that her proposal for the November ballot would only apply to undocumented felons, that was not the case until she amended the proposed measure on Monday.

The first version filed last week would have allowed law enforcement to report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities for being booked on suspicion of a felony, which is not the same as being convicted or even charged.

Alioto said that was never her intention. “My intent was that if they were booked and had other felonies, [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] would have been called,” Alioto said. “So we went back and clarified it.”

Alioto made the changes after local politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized her proposal as an attack on immigrants. Former state Sen. Mark Leno, another leading mayoral candidate, pulled his third place endorsement for Alioto in response.

Alioto has since appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson to tout the proposal, and plans to begin collecting signatures as early as next week to place it before voters. However, questions remain as to just how different the proposal is from what local sanctuary law already allows and prohibits.

“She is merely rearranging the furniture,” said former Supervisor John Avalos, who authored the latest amendment to the ordinance in 2016. “More than anything she is seeking publicity by pandering to anti-immigrant sentiments.”

The proposed ballot measure would permit city agencies to cooperate with requests from federal immigration authorities and to share information with them in cases where an individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony. The exception to sanctuary law would also apply when a judge has found there is probable cause to believe a person committed a serious or violent felony.

Serious felonies range from murder and rape to first-degree burglary.

San Francisco already allows law enforcement to honor requests to hold undocumented inmates for deportation in cases where an individual has been convicted of a violent felony in the last seven years or a judge has determined there is probable cause to believe the person is guilty of a violent felony.

Likewise, The City allows law enforcement to respond to a request to notify immigration authorities when an undocumented inmate is being released when the inmate has been convicted of a violent felony in the last seven years or a serious felony in the last five years.

There are also further exceptions to sanctuary law for notification requests based on whether a judge has found there is probable cause that a person is guilty of a certain felony and whether an inmate has committed three felonies from a certain list of crimes. Neither of those provisions allows law enforcement to report undocumented immigrants in cases of felony domestic violence.

“My amendment eliminates the loopholes,” Alioto said.

Alioto has also drawn criticism since proposing the ballot measure for taking credit as the author of the initial sanctuary city ordinance that passed in 1989.“I wrote the sanctuary ordinance,” Alioto said last week.

City records show Alioto is the third of four supervisors listed as sponsors on the original ordinance, introduced by then Supervisor Nancy Walker.

“When I tell someone that I wrote a law, it’s because I wrote it or was the chief author,” said former Supervisor David Campos, who worked with Avalos to amend the sanctuary city law in 2016. Cosponsoring “is not the same. In fact you don’t get to say anything. It’s just like ‘I support it.’”

Campos said this and the fact that the initial proposal not only applied to convicted felons amounts to “a pattern of deception.”

But former Supervisor Jim Gonzalez, another of the four names on the original ordinance, said Alioto was a co-author on the legislation.

“I’m not going to take that away from her,” Gonzalez said. “She voted for it.”

At the same time, Gonzalez said he is the supervisor who authored the legislation and lost endorsements as a result. “I took the heat for it,” Gonzalez said. “I’m the one who got vilified by the right-wing in San Francisco, not her.”

Gonzalez said he shared principal authorship on the legislation with Walker out of deference to her efforts in writing the first resolution that treated San Francisco as a sanctuary city. That resolution had no teeth, he said.

“It was my language, I wrote it,” Gonzalez said of the legislation. “The important thing for me is that the sanctuary ordinance has been embraced over the years by supervisors Campos, Avalos and other supervisors.”

Further complicating the issue, Harry Britt, the fourth supervisor listed on the ordinance, said through a representative that Walker wrote the legislation.

“He’s just saying Nancy wrote it,” said Brad Chapin, a board member at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

In response, Alioto said that she chaired the committee that passed the ordinance to the full board at the time and called for hearings on the issue. Alioto noted that the City Attorney’s Office ultimately writes legislation for supervisors.

“When you send a law out to the full board, everybody cosponsors,” Alioto said. “The author is the City Attorney’s Office.

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