After criticizing President Donald Trump and his administration for putting up “barriers” to the extradition from Canada of a rideshare driver suspected of rape, a Board of Supervisors committee on Wednesday agreed to meet federal immigration demands to provide notifications not normally allowed under The City’s sanctuary law.
As previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, Mohamed Ben Azaza, 39, picked up a female passenger in Daly City on Oct. 21, 2017 and allegedly raped her while she was unconscious after driving her to San Francisco.
Ben Azaza, who is from Tunisia, fled the country when he was asked by law enforcement to come in for questioning, authorities said. He later turned up in Montreal, Canada, where he is being held for extradition. He was arrested there after he reported the theft of his passport and other items to a Montreal police station where authorities discovered he was wanted in San Francisco.
District Attorney George Gascon asked the US Department of Homeland Security to assist in the extradition of Ben Azaza, a foreign national, to face two felony rape charges in San Francisco but the federal agency put conditions on the terms of the procedure that run afoul of the city’s sanctuary city laws, which limit the extent to which local agencies can cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee approved legislation Wednesday at the request of Gascon to allow him and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to contact DHS if Ben Azaza posts bail, is acquitted or if no probable cause is found. Such notification is currently not permitted under the existing sanctuary laws, which is why the legislation is necessary. The legislation only applies to the Ben Azaza case.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen said that the Trump administration’s request is another example of “attacking the immigrant community.”
”For the first time ever, the president is putting up these barriers and these blockades for our DA to be able to seek justice and in doing so has delayed prosecution of this case significantly,” Ronen said, when voting to support the legislation. She added, “I am very frustrated.”
Mark Nicco, the legal counsel for the Sheriff’s Department, said that “Sheriff Hennessy does support our sanctuary city laws and does support the exceptions enumerated in those sanctuary city laws, but she also supports this amendment, or this exception to sanctuary city, in order to effectuate this extradition.”
Ronen emphasized that the legislation does not amend the city’s sanctuary law, but provides the “ability in this single case to communicate with DHS under three limited circumstances.”
“We stand by our sanctuary law. It works,” Ronen said. “We know that it has kept our community safe. We have record low homicides in this city because we have such a strong sanctuary law and because the immigrant community feels comfortable coming forward and seeking the services of the government, calling the police and cooperating with the District Attorney’s Office.”
Supervisor Catherine Stefani said that “this is something that is very narrow for this one individual,” but asked if there other ways to bring the suspect back to San Francisco.
“There are not other vehicles as a local prosecutor that we can use to bring an individual back,” Gascón’s chief of staff Cristine Soto DeBerry told the committee. “We did explore other alternatives that might be available to us. We were not able to identify another pathway.”
She continued, “We do have a victim that would like her case pursued. We would like to pursue that. But we cannot do that without him physically present.”
The full board will vote on the legislation next week.
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