SF politicians back up ‘sanctuary city’ policy

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on a resolution to opt out of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) Tuesday.

Another resolution urging San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to rescind a department-wide memo instructing deputies not to communicate with immigration officials, however, remains a divisive issue among board members.

Mayor Ed Lee reaffirmed that he doesn’t want to see the city’s Sanctuary City ordinance removed. Instead he blamed Mirkarimi for the fatal shooting of 32-year-old San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle, which occurred on Pier 14 near the San Francisco Ferry Building on July 1.

The suspect, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is a convicted felon and an undocumented immigrant who has been deported at least five times – and as a result Steinle’s death spurred a national debate over cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration officials.

Lee said Mirkarimi’s department memo instructed sheriff’s deputies not to call immigration officials. Instead, Lopez-Sanchez was released.

Mirkarimi has said that the decision to contact ICE was to be made by him and the department’s legal team on a case-by-case basis.

Matt Gonzalez, the chief attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and Lopez-Sanchez’ attorney, has said the defendant apparently found the gun on the pier and accidentally fired it.

Ballistics experts have said the bullet ricocheted off the pier before it struck Steinle.

The gun was later determined to have been stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger during an auto burglary in San Francisco.

Lee said that Mirkarimi’s memo, or “gag order,” needs to be rescinded and that law enforcement should be able to communicate with federal officials.

A resolution urging Mirkarimi to rescind his memo, authored by Supervisor Mark Farrell, was tabled today in a 6-5 vote.

As Farrell spoke in chambers Tuesday, a crowd of dozens of immigrant rights advocates turned their backs on him in a show of protest.

Supervisor Malia Cohen stood against Farrell’s resolution, saying that while everyone agrees that Steinle’s death was senseless and tragic, there is disagreement on “the role, if any, that San Francisco’s existing Sanctuary City, Due Process for All policies play in this event.”

She said if members of the board want to make changes to the ordinances, “let’s talk about that, instead of grandstanding on non-binding resolutions.”

Cohen said passing a resolution urging Mirkarimi to follow a policy that he does not agree with won’t accomplish anything, and that it’s important for the Board of Supervisors and the city not to allow one tragic event to reverse the work done to protect immigrants over the decades:

“More importantly, we cannot allow hateful conservative news stations to drive how we respond to incidents in our city.”

Cohen said, as the crowd in the chambers roared with applause:

“I’m not afraid of Fox News and they don’t influence how I make my policy decisions.”

Supervisor John Avalos said PEP replaces a similar program “which created a dragnet across the country” that led to immigrants being deported and families being torn apart. He added that Farrell’s resolution was about targeting Mirkarimi in an election year effort “to smear the sheriff.”

Supervisor David Campos said he didn’t think Farrell intended his resolution to be hurtful to immigrants, but “it comes across in a certain way.” He urged Farrell to withdraw his resolution, but Farrell did not.

Supervisor Jane Kim said she felt Farrell’s resolution could jeopardize the lives of immigrants and harm policies the city spent decades crafting.

But Farrell said his resolution was misunderstood, and that what he had hoped to do was discourage Mirkarimi from implementing policies that have not been legislatively adopted by the Board of Supervisors.

Farrell said the vote to table the resolution “was a slap in the face to everyone in San Francisco who truly cares about protecting vulnerable immigrants and the public safety of our city’s residents.” Outside chambers, immigrant rights advocates cheered, passed around cookies and celebrated the board’s vote to table the resolution. On the steps of City Hall, some shared stories of ICE detainment.

Daniel Maher, a 41-year-old man who has run the recycling program at Berkeley’s Ecology Center for the last decade, told his story of being detained.

Maher was convicted of a felony 20 years ago and picked up in June during an ICE sweep targeting residents of Chinese descent, according to his attorney Anoop Prasad, of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus.

Maher came from the Macau region of China to the United States as a toddler, and became a permanent U.S. resident in 1977. When he was 20, Maher was convicted of felonies related to an armed robbery and kidnapping.

He served time in state prison and then ICE custody, Prasad said.

In 2001, Maher sued the federal government for holding him past the six-month detainment period. When he got out, he began working as a recycling sorter in Hayward and was later hired as a manager at Berkley’s Ecology Center, where he was promoted to director of recycling.

Maher was placed in custody again this year, but his colleagues saved his job. He’s now back at work after being released in August.

Prasad said the Chinese government wasn’t going to extradite Maher and that when extradition is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future, U.S. law requires that the detainee be released. He filed a lawsuit against ICE arguing that they held Maher illegally.

Maher said that if he were from any other country he would likely have been deported.

Derrlyn Tom, a teacher at San Francisco’s Mission High School, said that during her 17 years of teaching she’s seen many students removed from class after family members had been detained by ICE, which discourages attendance:

“I want them to come to school, to get their education and not be afraid.”

She read a statement from Lita Blanc, president of United Educators of San Francisco. Blanc said the teachers’ union stands behind Campos’ resolution to uphold the Sanctuary City policy.

“There are immigrant children and families in virtually every school in SFUSD,” who need to be welcomed and supported, Blanc said.