The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to clarify guidelines under which federal deportation authorities should be contacted if an immigrant in the U.S. illegally is detained.
The plan would direct law enforcement to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement only if a person detained is charged with a violent crime and has been convicted of a violent crime within the last seven years.
San Francisco law contains outlines for city employees to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they encounter people who are living in the country illegally and are not in jail. For those in custody, the previous sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, required federal officials to get a warrant or court notice to hold an inmate facing possible deportation and forbade staff from talking to immigration authorities.
Kate Steinle case
The proposal to clarify the rules comes nearly a year after the shooting that killed a 32-year-old Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier. Suspect Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez is a Mexican national who had been released from jail, despite federal requests to detain him for deportation proceedings.
The Associated Press reported the new sheriff repealed the communication ban, but the San Francisco Sheriff's Department generally does not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Steinle’s death cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the city that proudly declares itself a refuge for immigrants. As outrage mounted nationally, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, criticized the sheriff, saying suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez should have been detained.
Republicans in Congress tried to punish cities like San Francisco, which is among hundreds of jurisdictions that decline to honor federal immigration requests, or "detainers."
But Supervisor John Avalos, the San Francisco legislation's chief sponsor, and longtime immigration advocate, said the ordinance reaffirms the message to immigrants that they won't be deported for reporting a crime or cooperating with police.
"We want to keep that clear separation," he said.
New Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said she should have discretion about when to notify federal immigration officials. As a constitutionally elected official, she doesn't have to follow board orders. Hennessy took office in January and opposes the legislation.
Under the proposed ordinance, Steinle's accused killer would still have been released from jail.
Immigration advocates say a rule is needed to protect immigrants who report a crime and work with law enforcement officials.