Amid a national debate over immigration, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors stood behind its sanctuary city policy that has come under sharp scrutiny following the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle allegedly by an undocumented immigrant.
Tuesday was the first time the Board of Supervisors has addressed immigration policies since the fatal shooting July 1 on Pier 14.
The discussion stemmed from a resolution introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, calling for Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to rescind his immigration policy. That policy, outlined in a March 13 department-wide memo, orders deputies not to contact federal immigration officials unless he has authorized the communication.
Farrell’s resolution was soundly blasted by immigration rights advocates who characterized it as an attack on sanctuary city policies and caving to the hysteria of the likes of Donald Trump.
Supervisor Malia Cohen led the charge during the meeting against the proposal. “We cannot allow one event to dictate 25 years of our city’s policies towards undocumented immigrants in our city,” Cohen said.
The board voted 6-5 to table the resolution, effectively killing it. Cohen was supported by Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, David Campos, Eric Mar and Norman Yee. Those who voted against tabling it were Farrell along with supervisors London Breed, Scott Wiener, Katy Tang and Julie Christensen.
The vote comes as U.S. Senate democrats blocked a Republican bill that would have cut off federal funding for sanctuary cities.
Those opposing Farrell’s resolution said it was important for San Francisco to hold strong on its sanctuary city policies as many in the nation look to The City’s leadership on the issue as political pressure intensifies.
Farrell defended the resolution, arguing it wasn’t an attack on sanctuary city policies but a call to eliminate Mirkarimi’s policy, which he said goes “above and beyond” the laws approved by the board and has likened to a “gag order.”
“I think [Mirkarimi’s] order flies in the face of public safety,” Farrell said. “To vote … to table this is the same to say no one should have picked up the phone this summer.”
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the defendant in Steinle’s killing, was released from a federal prison in Victorville after serving five years on an illegal immigration conviction. He wasn’t deported by federal officials and was remanded to San Francisco on a 20-year-old drug warrant.
He was released several weeks later by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. Soon after he is alleged to have shot Steinle with a firearm stolen from a vehicle.
Mayor Ed Lee argues the Sheriff’s Department should have been communicating with federal authorities on Lopez-Sanchez’s status. Mirkarimi claims that would be a violation of city law and the constitutional rights governing due process rights.
Immigration advocates mobilized against Farrell’s resolution, including holding a rally on the steps of City Hall hours before the vote. Among those gathered was mayoral candidate Francisco Herrera.
“Farrell’s resolution … weakens the very essence of safety in our community,” Hererra said. “What we need is to strengthen sanctuary. People need to feel secure that they will not be confronted with immigration if they report a crime, if they are stuck in a situation where they need to go to a hospital – even going to school, people are afraid.”
The board unanimously approved a separate resolution introduced by Campos that calls on the sheriff not to cooperate with the federal government’s Priority Enforcement Program, PEP, which requests local law enforcement to notify ICE when immigrants are released.
Some saw the resolution as playing politics in Mirkarimi’s re-election bid against Vicki Hennessy, who Farrell and Mayor Ed Lee support.
Before the vote, Lee told reporters gathered outside the board meeting that he supported the rescinding of Mirkarimi’s policy, but did not state his position on the PEP resolution.
“We would not be able to have a conversation with our federal partners unless the gag order was removed,” Lee said. “Or the alternative is to get a sheriff that knows what he or she is doing then we can have a conversation how to converse with our federal partners when it comes to convicted felons. You can’t even approach PEP if you’ve got a gag order.”
Mirkarimi said the board’s vote validates the policy he has in place.
“Labeling our policy as a gag order was always fabrication and incendiary,” Mirkarimi said via text message. “The motive was political and not substantive. My communication memo provides guidance to our deputies and our legal team in responding to changing local, state and federal immigration laws. The unanimous passage of non-participation with PEP validates our policy.”