Despite Killing, San Francisco Votes to Keep Protecting Immigrants
By Emily Green
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors sent a strong message Tuesday about the sanctuary city policies that came under attack after the July killing of Kathryn Steinle, allegedly by an immigrant with no legal standing: The existing policies are just fine.
The board unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution by Supervisor David Campos that says the sheriff should not notify federal immigration authorities when such immigrants are being released, except in very limited circumstances. And in a surprise move, the board rejected another nonbinding resolution that took aim at Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose actions some say let the Steinle shooting happen.
Indeed, the votes largely affirm Mirkarimi's existing policy of not notifying federal officials -- the very policy that was attacked by politicians from Donald Trump to Mayor Ed Lee and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein after an immigrant felon who had been released from Sheriff's Department custody was charged with the shooting death of Steinle on Pier 14 as she walked with her father.
Under the resolution passed Tuesday, the suspect -- Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez -- still would have been released from custody before the shooting.
Policy seen as sufficient
That's because it says the only time the sheriff should notify federal immigration authorities is when an inmate with no legal status has a violent felony conviction in the past seven years and is facing another violent felony charge. Lopez-Sanchez had neither, although he had a laundry list of drug violations and been deported to Mexico five times previously.
Supervisor Malia Cohen gave impassioned remarks at Tuesday's meeting, saying that Steinle's death was "senseless and tragic" but that the city's current policies are sufficient.
"We cannot allow one event to dictate 25 years of our city's policies toward undocumented immigrants. More importantly, we cannot allow hateful conservative news stations to drive how we make policy decisions here in San Francisco," she said. "We can talk all we want about improving public safety in this building, but if people in our community don't trust law enforcement, no level of police staffing is going to make our community safe."
Cohen also provided the spark to doom another nonbinding resolution focused on the sheriff.
The resolution, introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, called on Mirkarimi to rescind his March 13 order prohibiting his staff from giving federal immigration agents information about detainees -- including their citizenship status, their booking and arrest documents, and their release dates. The mayor has also repeatedly demanded Mirkarimi rescind the order.
But Cohen said the resolution did nothing except gin up unwanted media attention. "Supervisor Farrell, I asked you privately and I am asking you publicly to respectfully table this issue so we can work on real policy solutions ... rather than grandstanding on nonbinding resolutions."
Effort to 'smear the sheriff'
Supervisor John Avalos said the resolution was geared toward scapegoating the sheriff. "This resolution is about targeting the sheriff, a sheriff who is not very popular here in City Hall and perhaps not popular in San Francisco. But it was an effort to actually smear the sheriff," he said.
Mirkarimi has defended the release of Lopez-Sanchez, saying it was consistent with the city's 2013 Due Process for All ordinance. The law limited cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program, which asked sheriffs to hold immigrants without legal status behind bars until federal authorities could pick them up for deportation. It said the sheriff could hold for deportation only individuals who had been convicted of a violent felony in the past seven years and were facing another violent felony charge.
The Department of Homeland Security has since ended the Secure Communities program, as courts cast doubt on its legality. Instead, the department is asking for notification when immigrants without legal status are being released, under the Priority Enforcement Program.
Farrell said nothing in the 2013 law prohibited Mirkarimi or his staff from alerting immigration authorities that they were releasing Lopez-Sanchez.
"From my perspective the sheriff's policies go beyond local law," Farrell said, as dozens of spectators stood up in the chamber with their backs turned toward him to protest his resolution.
Farrell's resolution tabled
At the beginning of the board meeting, Farrell thought he had the votes to pass the resolution. But Supervisor Norman Yee, who had indicated he would support it, flipped his vote after Cohen's remarks. On a 6-5 vote, the supervisors tabled the resolution without a full vote.
To table the resolution "is the same as saying no one should have picked up the phone this summer (before Lopez-Sanchez was released) ... and I simply don't agree with that," Farrell said. "It flies in the face of public safety."
Farrell may have national support for his position, but he was on the losing side at the Board of Supervisors.
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