San Francisco no longer will report to immigration authorities juveniles suspected of being in the United States illegally when they are arrested on a felony charge if they can show they have family ties to the Bay Area, are enrolled in school and are not repeat offenders, Mayor Ed Lee said Tuesday.
The edict creates a middle ground between the hard-line position of Lee's redecessor, Gavin Newsome, who directed city law enforcement officers to report all arrested juveniles to federal authorities for possible deportation, and the Board of Supervisors, which backed a more liberal policy.
Supervisors passed a law in 2009 intended to prevent the city from automatically cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless the juvenile had been convicted of a felony - not just arrested. Newsom vetoed the law and the board overrode the veto, but he refused to enforce it.
"I've had to take care in balancing the issue of public safety and also due process," Lee said.He said his policy, revealed during his "question time" before the Board of Supervisors, reflects the spirit and values of San Francisco's 22-year-old city sanctuary policy, which aims to create a safe refuge for immigrants, whether documented or not.
Lee's policy, which will be carried out by the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, was met with a combination of appreciation and disappointment by immigrant rights advocates and supervisors who back the more liberal policy adopted by the board but blocked by Newsom.
"It's a bittersweet moment," said Angela Chan, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, for which the mayor once worked. "We appreciate Mayor Lee for taking a great first step, but it doesn't go far enough."
Several supervisors echoed that sentiment.
"As much as we appreciate that step being taken, we still will not have full compliance with a law that was duly enacted by this Board of Supervisors," said Supervisor David Campos. "Full compliance with the law that we enacted means giving every child in San Francisco who interacts with the criminal justice system due process."
Lee said he feels "quite comfortable" with his policy. He crafted the idea after discussions with civil rights attorneys and San Francisco's top law enforcement officials.
Weighing the risks
William Sifferman, the chief juvenile probation officer and the person charged with carrying out the policy, said young people who have recognizable family ties to the community and who are enrolled in school are least at risk of committing serious, violent crimes, he said.
"I don't think public safety will be imperiled" by the policy shift, he said.
Concerns have been raised that San Francisco's city sanctuary policy was used as a shield by drug traffickers, who used undocumented juveniles to carry out their illicit dealings.
Since 2008, Sifferman's agency reported all 159 minors arrested on felony charges to ICE. Of those, 110 had felony convictions, he said.
When the debate over San Francisco's immigration policy heated up, Newsom said one reason he took a tougher position was to protect city law enforcement personnel from possible federal prosecution, which the U.S. attorney's office warned could happen if the city didn't comply with federal immigration rules.
Under a microscope
Lee hopes his policy will withstand federal scrutiny. Sifferman said no disciplinary action will be taken against officers who decide on their own to report to federal authorities suspected undocumented immigrants with whom they come in contact.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, wouldn't speak directly to the mayor's new policy directive but did say that enforcement would continue to be aimed at individuals involved in serious crimes.
"ICE's immigration enforcement priorities focus on the identification and removal of foreign nationals who pose a public safety threat," she said.
Lee's announcement comes as Sheriff Michael Hennessey recently announced that he plans to start releasing undocumented immigrants held in county jail for minor offenses, even if federal immigration officials request that they be held.
8 USC 1324. Bringing in and harboring certain aliens
(a) Criminal penalties
(1) (A) Any person who—
(i) knowing that a person is an alien, brings to or attempts to bring to the United States in any manner whatsoever such person at a place other than a designated port of entry or place other than as designated by the Commissioner, regardless of whether such alien has received prior official authorization to come to, enter, or reside in the United States and regardless of any future official action which may be taken with respect to such alien;
(ii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise, in furtherance of such violation of law;
(iii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation;
(iv) encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law; or
(v) (I) engages in any conspiracy to commit any of the preceding acts, or
(II) aids or abets the commission of any of the preceding acts, shall be
punished as provided in subparagraph (B).