Low-level criminals get passed to ICE

San Francisco reported at least 19 suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities after the suspects were put in jail for low-level crimes such as public intoxication and trespassing in the two months after the implementation of a controversial federal monitoring program.

In July and August of this year, 286 of the 4,198 people booked into jail were referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement — less than 7 percent, according to a jail audit. Of those reported, 134 were detained by ICE after being released, whether for serving their sentence or for being arrested and then cleared of the crime. 

The Police Commission began asking for the information from the Sheriff’s Department in June after a federal program called Secure Communities was implemented in San Francisco. The program allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check the fingerprints of jail inmates to determine if they are ­illegal immigrants.

Critics, including Sheriff Michael Hennessey, have been fighting to opt out of the program because it contradicts The City’s Sanctuary Ordinance, which prevents local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities unless a suspected illegal immigrant has committed a felony.

Among those suspected illegal immigrants were people accused of serious crimes such as armed ­robbery, assault and rape. Those types of crimes would have been reported before the implementation of the federal program and represented a majority of the referrals, about 55 percent.

In the same two months, 108 illegal immigrants were reported for middle-of-the-road crimes such as dealing drugs, and 19 were reported for committing petty crimes such as public intoxication and trespassing.

A spokeswoman for Hennessey, Eileen Hirst, said that in the time during the audit, the jail population has been increasing.

The Police Commission has gotten involved in the debate because members are concerned that a strict immigration policy will erode trust among the immigrant community and potential witnesses will be loath to help police, Commissioner Angela Chan said.

In August, Hennessey renewed his desire to opt out of the program after being denied by ICE and the state Department of Justice. The next day, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the department would consider discussing the possibility.

That has yet to happen, ­Hennessey said.

Kice said Tuesday officials are still working to schedule a meeting, and we “don’t have a confirmed date yet.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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