SF police chief decries proposal to skirt federal immigration detainer rules

A law that would prohibit the holding of undocumented immigrants at the request of federal authorities who then pick them up for possible deportation moved closer to approval Thursday, despite the objections of San Francisco's police chief.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said the legislation could make San Francisco a destination for violent criminals and expose The City to violent crime by those currently held under the existing policy. The Sheriff's Department policy — which builds on former Sheriff Michael Hennessey's Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer exemptions — is to hold people who are in custody on suspicion of a serious and violent felony, such as murder or rape, for up to 24 hours. The policy also includes honoring holds for people who have previous convictions for serious felonies.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor John Avalos, would prohibit The City from honoring all immigration holds, or detainers, that are part of a controversial federal program called Secure Communities, or S-Comm.

Current Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi supports Avalos' legislation.

Suhr said the detainers should continue to be honored for those convicted of serious crimes such as violent felonies, sex offenses and weapons possession.

“Whether documented or undocumented, we're just better off in San Francisco without such folks continuing to commit such offenses,” Suhr said.

But supporters say any exemption defeats the legislation's purpose. The detainers, critics say, are devoid of due process and erode the kind of community trust essential to effective crime-fighting in urban centers.

“There are no carve-outs in the Bill of Rights,” Supervisor David Campos said. “That's the point of having a Bill of Rights.”

Avalos called on his seven colleagues on the Board of Supervisors who indicated initial support for the law to not succumb to political pressure and ensure its passage with a veto-proof majority. It takes eight votes to override a mayoral veto.

There must be a clear split between federal immigration enforcement and the local criminal justice system, Avalos said.

“Public safety is founded on public trust,” he said. “We should not think of deportation as a public-safety tool.”

In a July 22 letter, Public Defender Jeff Adachi praised the legislation, saying it would “not lead to violent criminals being turned loose onto our streets.”

“Those who are convicted of serious crimes, with very few exceptions, remain in custody despite the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] hold being removed due to high bails, and many are sentenced to state prison,” Adachi said.

In 2012, 542 people were turned over to ICE on detainers, according to the Sheriff's Department.

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