San Francisco supervisors unanimously adopted a non-binding policy Tuesday refusing to cooperate with a federal program that collects immigration details about suspects that makes it easier to deport undocumented immigrants.
Supervisor John Avalos said that if local communities saw a link between law enforcement and immigration enforcement, “it would completely undermine… the trust we are trying to build within our city.”
Immigrant advocates have criticized the Priority Enforcement Program for discouraging immigrants from contacting law enforcement when they witness or are the victims of crime.
At a rally before the Board of Supervisors met, Yadira Sanchez, a 24-year-old San Francisco resident whose grandfather came very close to being deported after being mistaken for another man by the same name, called for the rejection of the program.
“ICE decided to make an ‘oops,’ a mistake. ICE has no transparency, no accountability,” Sanchez said referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. With the enforcement program, “no one is safe,” she added.
“We need solutions, not scapegoating,” said Dean Santo, an immigrant who was arrested for the theft of a small item and was subsequently sent to a detention center and pushed into deportation proceedings. His case, he said, was only resolved as a result of community pressure.
Supervisors also rejected a proposal by Supervisor Mark Farrell that would have urged Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to rescind a memo he had sent in March of this year encouraging deputies not to communicate suspect information to immigration enforcement. That memo drew criticism when it was connected to the shooting death of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant.
“The sheriff’s memo, which prohibits any communication, flies in the face of the best interest for public safety for all San Franciscans,” Farrell said.
When Farrell addressed the Board to explain his proposal, however, members of the public in attendance, most of whom had rallied for immigrant rights outside City Hall before the meeting, stood and turned their backs on the supervisor.
Other board members also criticized the proposal.
“What message are we sending to undocumented folks who are witnesses to a crime?” Supervisor Malia Cohen wanted to know, after asking Farrell to table his proposal. “We can talk all we want about improving public safety in this building, but if people in our communities don’t trust police, no level of police staffing is going to make communities safe.”
Cohen’s rejection of Farrell’s proposal drew cheers and applause from the audience. The board voted 6-5 to table it.
Supervisor David Campos’ proposal to openly reject the Priority Enforcement Program by encouraging the sheriff not to participate in it won unanimous support. Though the resolution is not legally binding, it was hailed as a small step forward.
“This really would not have happened without the actions of the immigrant community,” said Kitzia Esteva, an activist with Causa Justa::Just Cause. “This is not the end of our work, but it is a victory.”
The resolution to reject the enforcement program was amended by Supervisor London Breed to reflect certain exceptions that had already been put in place in previous local sanctuary laws. Esteva called these a “carve-out,” since they allow participation in immigration enforcement programs in certain cases, including ones where the suspect has been convicted of a felony.
That kind of exception is problematic for people like Daniel Maher, an immigrant from Macau who served five years in prison for armed robbery. He has since reformed, becoming a recycling manager at the Berkeley Ecology Center and training at-risk youth for environmental jobs.
“Given that carve-out… people with my similar situation, it doesn’t help them,” Maher said after the meeting. “Because of my history, I’m always going to be a target.”