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Working group seeks to further restrict SFPD’s role in immigration enforcement

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A working group consisting of SFPD officials, police commission members and community leaders was formed in July to clarify changes to SFPD’s immigration enforcement policies.(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Immigration advocates working to revise city policies governing police participation in immigration enforcement are asking for even stricter limitations and more transparency.

The working group consisting of community advocates, Police Department heads and police commissioners was formed to clarify changes made last month to the department’s policies on immigration enforcement.

At a Police Commission hearing on Tuesday, the group considered proposed amendments to the department’s general order that would include requiring officers to notify individuals in their custody of any Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, transfer or notification requests placed against them.

“There is a right for a person who has a notification up on them to know about that,” said Saira Hussain of the Asian Law Caucus and a member of the working group.

The advocates also requested insight into the training of officers around The City’s sanctuary city policy and department policies on immigration enforcement, and that joint operations between local authorities and federal immigration enforcement agencies be made public.

“There are situations where local law enforcement may not know that ICE has carried out these collateral arrests,” Hussain said.

San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy already prohibits local law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status and limits authorities from sharing that information with federal agencies.
In response to immigration enforcement ramping up nationally, that policy was strengthened in July when the Police Commission adopted a revision of the policy to also prohibit the use of city resources to enforce immigration laws and restrict police from assisting in immigration enforcement.

“The SFPD should not go out of their way to ask about immigration status or to partner with ICE on immigration enforcement,” said Police Commissioner Bill Ong Hing. “That’s very clear in the San Francisco ordinance and now it’s clear in the orders to the department.”

Assistant Chief Hector Sainez insisted that his department’s policy is to never enforce immigration law.

However, local authorities are sanctioned under state and federal law to participate in joint task force operations that involve felonies such as human trafficking, drug and homicide investigations.

Sainez voiced concern that his officers could face legal repercussions for participating in joint task force operations that, unbeknownst to them, cross over into immigration enforcement.

The advocates working to protect undocumented immigrants from detentions conceded that some of the revised policy’s text remains murky, citing concerns of collateral arrests in which federal agencies such as ICE and its investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations, collaborate with local authorities in joint operations that end in raids.

“In some cases like [in] Santa Cruz and other jurisdictions around the country, we have seen ICE enter into a joint operation with local police and tell them, ‘We are not going to conduct collateral arrest or pick people just for immigration purposes’ — and then they carry it out anyway,” said Hussein.

Sainez said joint task force operations are vetted by the Police Department’s chain of command.

“In that interagency request there is a statement of purpose by the investigator [who] may have had that conversation with the other agency stating that [immigration enforcement] is not going to be the purpose, that ‘this is of criminal nature and there won’t be a secondary immigration check,’” he said.

Oakland city leaders voted last month for the Oakland Police Department to cease all joint operations with federal agencies — even criminal investigations.

Meanwhile, a recent child pornography sting in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District that involved federal immigration authorities and local police ended in a raid, said Hing.

“They arrested some people and charged them with crimes and they called San Francisco police to help out on some of the arrests,” he said, adding that police officers were unaware of the operation’s immigration enforcement component until after the arrests were made.

“The community thought that because people were turned over to police, that SFPD had partnered with that [immigration] operation,” he said. “We want to make sure there is clarity.”

The working group is expected to meet once more to discuss the proposed changes before the amendments go before the full Police Commission for a vote.

Editor’s Note: The photo caption in this story has been updated to reflect that the working group was formed in July.

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