San Francisco Votes to Keep Shielding Immigrants From Deportation Officials

Published on October 21st, 2015

Supporters of San Francisco’s sanctuary status at a Board of Supervisors vote on Tuesday. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

By Laura M. Holson
October 20, 2015
The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — The Board of Supervisors upheld San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary for immigrants on Tuesday, unanimously passing a resolution that called on local law enforcement not to notify the federal authorities when unauthorized immigrants are released from custody.

The city had been under pressure from critics of its policies on immigrants after Kathryn Steinle, 32, a tourist from Pleasanton, Calif., was fatally shot in the chest in July while walking with her father along the Embarcadero waterfront. The man accused of the shooting, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is an unauthorized immigrant who has been deported to Mexico five times for various felonies, including drug charges, and had been released from a San Francisco jail shortly before the killing.
At the same time, the board put off a vote on a hotly debated resolution that would have asked the San Francisco sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, to rescind a March memo instructing staff members not to give information about detainees, such as immigration status, arrest records and release dates, to federal immigration officials.
Policies regarding sanctuary cities vary, but San Francisco has generally protected unauthorized immigrants without criminal records from deportation agents.
“If people in our community don’t trust law enforcement, no level of police staffing is going to make our community safe,” Supervisor Malia Cohen said as a crowd of about 250 mostly Hispanic protesters clapped and waved their hands in support.
Ms. Cohen said she would not be swayed by pressure from the national news media, pundits and political candidates. “They don’t influence how I make my decisions here in San Francisco,” she said.
Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real estate magnate running for the Republican presidential nomination, has blamed what he says is a lax stand on immigration for Ms. Steinle’s death, calling it “yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately.” Ms. Steinle’s brother, Brad, rebuked him, telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Mr. Trump was using his sister’s death for political gain.
In September, Ms. Steinle’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the sheriff and two federal agencies, citing their handling of unauthorized immigrants.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco, has urged local officials to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s new Priority Enforcement Program, which the supervisors resolved on Tuesday not to do. Ms. Feinstein wrote in a recent letter to Mayor Edwin M. Lee that further tragedies could be avoided if the city and county worked with immigration enforcement officials.
Supervisor David Campos, who entered the United States illegally from Guatemala as a child, introduced the resolution reaffirming the city’s sanctuary status and warned of “hysteria” on immigration. He pointed to an audience member who he said had been in an abusive relationship but had not wanted to leave her husband, fearing she would be deported and her children left motherless. She now works with Mujeres Unidas y Activas, or United and Active Women, an organization that helps women who are victims of domestic violence.
By not participating in the Priority Enforcement Program, Mr. Campos said, San Francisco is reaffirming the commitment it had made since 1989 to being a sanctuary. Earlier in the day, Senate Democrats blocked Republican-backed legislation that would punish jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Supervisor Mark Farrell, who wrote the resolution to rescind the sheriff’s memo, balked at the suggestion that his measure would weaken San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary, saying he believed the city would be safer if it cooperated more with federal officials. He added that the mayor and residents may not like the sheriff, but that changes should not be politically motivated.
The union representing sheriff’s deputies filed a complaint against Sheriff Mirkarimi this year and asked that he rescind the memo. Mayor Lee also asked the sheriff to amend the policy.
Neither the union nor Mr. Lee supports Sheriff Mirkarimi’s re-election bid. Instead, they back Vicki Hennessy, a law enforcement veteran who served as interim sheriff in 2012 when Sheriff Mirkarimi was suspended, having pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after being charged with domestic violence for grabbing and bruising his wife’s arm.

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