S.F. Board Puts Off Vote on Immigrant Detention Ordinance
Update: San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is postponing its vote on an ordinance that would bar police from holding undocumented immigrant suspects for federal authorities. The proposal would apply to undocumented immigrants arrested for local offenses who become the subject of 48-hour detainer requests under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secure Communities program.
The board delayed a vote because of concerns voiced by Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr that the measure doesn’t adequately address how felony suspects or those with a record of violent crime should be handled.
Supervisor John Avalos, the proposal’s sponsor, said he’s disappointed with the postponement but hopeful that a vote will take place next week. Supervisor Jane Kim, a co-sponsor, said she will put forth a compromise that will allow authorities to use their discretion in detaining undocumented individuals arrested for a violent felony and who have convictions for such crimes in the past seven years.
Here’s our original post on the proposal, from reporter Emily Green:
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote today on an ordinance that would bar police from holding undocumented immigrant suspects for federal authorities. The proposal would apply to undocumented immigrants arrested for local offenses who become the subject of 48-hour detainer requests under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secure Communities program.
Several jurisdictions, including Berkeley, Richmond, and Santa Clara County, have directed local law enforcement to decline ICE’s civil immigration detainers if suspects have been arrested for low-level crimes. Last week, the Legislature sent Gov. Jerry Brown has a bill that would implement a similar policy statewide.
The San Francisco measure bars police from holding suspects for ICE if they’re otherwise eligible for release from custody, either through posting bail, having charges dropped, being acquitted, or serving their sentence. The ordinance does not distinguish between those picked up for lower-level offenses and those taken into custody for felonies and those with a history of violent crime.
The proposed ordinance has strong support at City Hall, including from District Attorney George Gascon. But Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr want it amended to give law enforcement some discretion to turn over immigrants with a violent history.
“It’s really about overall human rights and public safety.”
The proposal’s supporters say Secure Communities erodes community trust, makes it harder for victims to report crimes and breaks up families. Supervisor John Avalos, the measure’s sponsor, says, “It’s really about overall human rights and public safety.”
“We feel that public safety is based on cooperation and trust between communities and law enforcement,” Avalos said. “If there is a fear of deportation based on that you’re going to make a phone call and you could get caught up in the deportation system, that puts a chilling effect on public safety.”
Arrest Leads to Deportation Threat
Supporters of the measure point to stories like that of Fatima Torres to underscore why San Francisco should stop holding immigrants at the request of federal immigration officials.
An undocumented immigrant, Torres moved to the United States from Mexico when she was 20. She is a single mother who has three children, ages 5, 6 and 9. The two youngest are U.S. citizens. Three months ago, Torres spent an evening out dancing and was arrested and charged after a man she rebuffed accused her of assaulting him with a glass bottle. On her fifth day in custody, she was transferred to federal immigration authorities.
“At that moment, I felt like my world was falling apart,” she said in Spanish. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to my kids. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I was scared. From one night out, all of this happened.”
Because Torres was charged with a felony — assault with a deadly weapon — San Francisco sheriff’s deputies held her for questioning by immigration officials. Charges against Torres were ultimately dropped. Immigration officials released her from custody but started deportation proceedings against her. Her next hearing is in 2015.
“It was traumatic. I am scared,” Torres said. “Every time I see a police officer I’m scared. I don’t have a desire to leave, to go out and have a drink, to do anything.”
Protecting ‘Worst of the Worst’?
Police Chief Suhr agrees that individuals like Torres shouldn’t be turned over to federal immigration officials. But he opposes a policy that would prohibit local law enforcement officials from turning over undocumented immigrants with violent histories.
“I actually think it does a disservice to the law-abiding, undocumented immigrant community that we seem stuck on protecting the worst of the worst,” Suhr said. “As chief of police, I don’t care if you are a citizen or not a citizen. If you are a convicted violent felon, sex offender or weapons possessor I don’t want you in San Francisco.”
At today’s hearing, the board will consider the amendments sought by Suhr and Mayor Lee. But for now, the current measure has the support of enough supervisors to override any veto.