After months of heated politics over immigration policies, San Francisco reached an unusual accord Tuesday by unanimously passing legislation that upholds a sanctuary city law with the support of the sheriff.
A heated debate over the policy dictating when the Sheriff’s Department would comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in reporting undocumented inmates for possible deportation ensued last year when an undocumented immigrant allegedly shot and killed San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14.
The incident was used by Republican presidential nominees, including Donald Trump, to whip up hysteria over undocumented immigrants and put the sanctuary city law in jeopardy.
The shooting also came amid a heated sheriff’s election, when then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi defended his immigration policies against challenger Vicki Hennessy, who prevailed and took office Jan. 8.
Hennessy was under political pressure to live up to her campaign commitment to have a tougher policy in place, but also under immense pressure by immigration advocates seeking to preserve San Francisco’s sanctuary laws, which date back to 1989.
The issue came to head when Supervisor John Avalos introduced legislation to dictate the parameters by which the sheriff could cooperate with ICE, updating the current Due Process for All legislation in place. The proposal was meant to address the modified practices by ICE, known as the Priority Enforcement Program, in which the agency requests notification of the release of undocumented immigrants so agents can pick them up for possible deportation.
At an April 8 Board of Supervisors committee hearing, Hennessy and Avalos traded sharp words over the issue, and a vote on the proposal was later postponed for two weeks at the full board as negotiations continued.
Talks between Avalos and Hennessy occurred all day Tuesday, leading up to the vote, in which agreement was ultimately reached. “Our sanctuary city policy is really most effective when we actually have the clear separation between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement,” Avalos said.
Under contention was when the sheriff can comply with ICE’s request for notification. Avalos said the compromise is “upholding our sanctuary city policy.”
The initial exception for the Due Process law in 2013 was if an inmate was convicted of a violent felony within the past seven years.
The new parameters added other exceptions to allow the sheriff to comply with ICE notifications, including if the person has been convicted of a serious felony in the past five years or has been convicted of three felonies in specified state penal codes, such as robbery or assault with a deadly weapon, arising out of three separate incidents in the past five years.
For the sheriff to review the criminal history of someone booked into jail for possible ICE notification under the approved legislation, the person would need to be booked on a felony and a judge would need to find probable cause.
After the vote, Hennessy acknowledged the compromise would not have resulted in notifying ICE of the alleged shooter of Steinle.
“That’s what I was trying to achieve,” Hennessy told reporters. But she ultimately decided “it was better for The City to have one unified policy.”
Hennessy said she has received 45 ICE notifications since January.
Following the vote, organizations working together in support of immigrants, such as Causa Justa, issued the following statement. “The policy the Board approved today will protect many people from ICE’s new, deceptive deportation tactics. In largely upholding Due Process, San Francisco has taken a stand against hate and scapegoating.”
Of the compromise, Avalos said there was “a lot of give and take on both sides.”