San Francisco immigration hold legislation tweaked after support wanes 

click to enlarge Federal law requires local law enforcement to hold undocumented suspects on detainers for possible ICE deportation. - U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT VIA AP FILE PHOTO
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP file photo
  • Federal law requires local law enforcement to hold undocumented suspects on detainers for possible ICE deportation.

In response to opposition from San Francisco's mayor and police chief, the Board of Supervisors backed off a proposal Tuesday to prohibit the Sheriff's Department from detaining undocumented immigrants for possible deportation at the request of federal authorities.

Despite the large turnout of domestic violence activists and immigrant-rights advocates, Supervisor John Avalos could not find the support to pass his legislation that would have forced a clean split between San Francisco's law enforcement and the controversial federal program called Secure Communities, or S-Comm.

Instead, after many hours of behind-the-scenes negotiations, a tentative compromise was reached that would limit, not outright ban, the existing power of the Sheriff's Department to honor immigration holds.

Under the program, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reviews fingerprints of people arrested by local law enforcement agencies. It can request that law enforcement place an immigration hold on the person for up to 48 hours to allow the federal agency time to pick up the detained person for possible deportation.

Critics of the program say it's eroding the important trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement, a vital component to combat crime and ensure witnesses and victims feel comfortable calling police for help. They also argue that detaining someone otherwise eligible for release is a violation of the constitutional right to due process.

Avalos, who initially had eight of 11 members supporting his legislation, enough to overturn a mayoral veto, saw support dwindle amid mounting pressure from police, the deputies who run the jails and Mayor Ed Lee, who expressed safety concerns.

Those concerns were shared Tuesday by Supervisor Katy Tang, whose comments drew boos and hisses from advocates.

"I do believe that there is a fine line and a very important distinction between being a sanctuary city and a safe haven for serious and violent criminal activity," Tang said.

Without the support to approve the outright ban, Supervisor Jane Kim proposed a compromise that appears to have enough support to become law. Kim's amendment would create "a very limited carve-out" that would allow the Sheriff's Department to hold someone at ICE's request if that person was charged with a violent crime and had been convicted of a violent felony or other serious crime within the past seven years. The provision would sunset in three years, or earlier if the law is reformed at the federal level. Regular reporting of the practice also would be required.

"I don't believe that we are going to get everything we wanted, but we wouldn't have gotten as much as we are going to get without your great work," Avalos said, addressing the supporters in the audience.

The Sheriff's Department current policy states that undocumented immigrants who are in custody on suspicion of a serious and violent felony, such as murder or rape, or who have previous convictions for serious felonies can be detained for up to 24 hours when they are otherwise eligible for release.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the new legislation next week.

Timeline of Secure Communities

2010: Federal government launches Secure Communities program, or S-Comm, which requires law enforcement agencies to collect fingerprints of undocumented immigrant arrestees and share the data with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

2010-2012: About 6,500 people are deported from the Bay Area under the program.

February 2011: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, proposes the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act (TRUST), which would require law enforcement to only detain undocumented immigrants who committed violent crimes and certain misdemeanors that would have resulted in prison time.

May 2011: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says participation in S-Comm is mandatory. Three UC Berkeley law professors challenge legality of the program, claiming it may overstep federal government's constitutional authority.

May 2011: Then-Sheriff Michael Hennessey seeks to let The City opt out of S-Comm.

January 2012: Hundreds attend rally against S-Comm organized by then-Archbishop George Niederauer.

July 2012: American Legion rallies veterans to persuade state voters to back S-Comm.

October 2012: Jerry Brown vetoes the TRUST Act, saying that limits shouldn't be placed on local law enforcement.

December 2012: Attorney General Kamala Harris calls S-Comm "flawed."

December 2012: A new version of the TRUST Act is introduced by Ammiano.

July 2013: The City's Immigration Rights Commission sends a letter to Mayor Ed Lee calling for city to not participate in S-Comm.

July 2013: Supervisor John Avalos proposes legislation that would prohibit local law enforcement from participating in S-Comm. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi supports proposal, while Police Chief Greg Suhr opposes its wide reach.

September 2013: The new version of the TRUST Act, AB 4, passes the state Senate. The bill is currently waiting for the governor's signature.

— Chloe Johnson
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