Immigration policy debate heats up at Board of Supervisors

San Francisco’s debate over immigration policies arrived at the Board of Supervisors in full force Thursday, amid a national debate over undocumented persons and a local sheriff’s race this November.

Amid the intense political backdrop, Supervisor Mark Farrell has introduced a resolution calling on Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to rescind his department’s immigration policy, which he characterized as a “gag order” with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But Mirkarimi, along with the board’s more progressive supervisors David Campos and John Avalos, were critical of Farrell’s proposal during the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing Thursday.

A separate resolution, introduced by Campos with the support of Avalos, reaffirms San Francisco’s sanctuary city policies and opposes the federal “deportation-focused Priority Enforcement Program,” which centers around notification of ICE when an undocumented immigrant is released from county jail.

The vote on the two resolutions was the first legislative action on immigration policy since the July 1 fatal shooting of Kate Steinle allegedly by an illegal immigrant released from County Jail with a criminal record of seven drug felonies and five deportations. Steinle’s death  has thrust San Francisco’s policies into the national spotlight.

The committee sent both resolutions to the full board for a vote on Oct. 20, but the debate, which at times became heated, is far from over.

The committee sent out Campos’ resolution without recommendation for approval, for example, after board President London Breed attempted to insert language referring to undocumented immigrants convicted of violent felonies.

Breed abandoned the effort amid opposition but said she may propose it at the full board. “We don’t want this community associated with criminality,” Campos said in opposing Breed’s amendment.  “It’s going to be ugly,” Avalos predicted of the debate at the board.

Mirkarimi has faced sharp criticism from Mayor Ed Lee for his department policies related to sanctuary city laws, which the mayor has reaffirmed he supported.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the defendant in Steinle’s killing, was released from a federal prison in Victorville on March 26 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 after the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department found no outstanding warrants on Lopez-Sanchez. On March 27, the charge was dropped.

Lee claims 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.

But Farrell and the mayor accuse the sheriff of taking sanctuary laws beyond the letter of the law by not alerting ICE about the release of the alleged shooter.

Farrell honed in on a March 13 department wide memo sent by Mirkarimi, which orders deputies not to contact ICE unless he has authorized the communication.

“His gag order should be rescinded,” Farrell said.

Mirkarimi said that rescinding his policy “is completely in conflict with sanctuary city law” and that “rescinding our policy without an alternative is dangerous.”

Mirkarimi said that if the board wanted the Sheriff’s Department “to notify ICE of any release date, then we want to know to what extent, what are the parameters.”  He added, “The reality is is that ICE vans pull around to pick people up. I thought that this was exactly what we are trying to get away from.”

Farrell said that that the resolution provides him with the “direction” he was looking for.

Immigrant advocates filled the committee hearing room to oppose Farrell’s resolution, which they said rolls back key protections for undocumented immigrants. Those who support shielding undocumented immigrants from federal immigration authorities say it is vital for the safety of the community, such as so they do not have fear of being deported if they report crimes.

While both pieces of legislation are resolutions, meaning they are nonbinding, they do set the groundwork for policy changes. Avalos said he may propose actual legislation that would address the procedures around notification with ICE.

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