Sheriff Vicki Hennessy (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SF’s new sheriff at odds with supervisors over immigration policy

San Francisco’s newly elected Sheriff Vicki Hennessy doubled down Thursday on her campaign promise to cooperate with federal immigration officials when releasing undocumented persons with a felonious criminal history.

Hennessy’s immigration policy, discussed Thursday at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting, would defy a proposed local law that moves to strengthen The City’s sanctuary city policy and further prevent local law enforcement and city departments from notifying immigration officials of certain undocumented persons.

The City’s sanctuary policy, dating back to 1989, became the subject of nationwide attention last year when an undocumented immigrant allegedly shot and killed San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14. The policy prevents local law enforcement and city departments from notifying immigration officials of certain undocumented persons.

Steinle’s death fanned anti-immigrant sentiment and was used by Republican presidential hopefuls to call for tougher border controls. Still, San Francisco stood behind its existing policies.

But now The City has a new sheriff in Hennessy, who took office on Jan. 8 after defeating incumbent Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and three months later has proposed a department policy for cooperating with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That drew sharp criticism at a Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting from Supervisor David Campos, who said Hennessy’s policy was “turning back the clock on the issue of sanctuary.”

At issue is when The City will comply with the federal immigration agency’s request of local law enforcement agencies to notify them when an undocumented person in custody is being released, which would allow them the chance to pick them up for possible deportation under the Priority Enforcement Program.

Supervisor John Avalos has introduced legislation that would only allow ICE notification requests to be honored if the person was guilty of a violent felony within the past seven years and is suspected of a similar violent crime. The legislation will be voted on by the full board April 19.

That standard was imposed by the board in 2013 as the update to the sanctuary law with the Due Process for All legislation for ICE detainer requests, part of the old Secure Communities program.

But Hennessy said, “I think the standard is a little bit high.”

Avalos argues that the proposed criteria for communicating with ICE is necessary to create a clear separation between local law enforcement and ICE. “Our public safety relies on trust and confidence between the public and law enforcement,” Avalos said.

The standard Hennessy proposed to use is an individual with a conviction of a violent felony within the last seven years or a conviction of certain serious felonies as well as those convicted of three felonies arising from three events that occurred within the last five years. In the cases where ICE has made the request and the person meets her guidelines, Hennessy said she would closely review them on a case-by-case basis to determine if she would honor the notification.

Hennessy said the Sheriff’s Department receives about five release notification requests per week from ICE officials. Of the 50 she has reviewed since taking office, she said none would have met her guidelines for reviewing the cases for possibly honoring ICE’s notification request.

After the hearing, Hennessy said that if her guidelines were in place last year the alleged shooter of Steinle, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, would have had his case reviewed for possible ICE notification.

Hennessy raised some legal questions as to whether the legislation would prevent her planned guidelines from going into effect even if it passes. “As a state constitutional officer I’d still have discretion,” Hennessy said. “I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize community safety.”

“What I am trying to do is target the few violent criminals that may not be part of the community, not be working toward rehabilitation.”

But Campos said that “sanctuary makes San Francisco safer and this sheriff, by going out of her way to help ICE as she is doing, is making San Francisco less safe.”
Board of SupervisorsCity HallDavid CamposICEimmigrationJohn AvalosKathryn SteinlePoliticsSan FranciscosanctuaryundocumentedVicki Hennessy

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