The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to update to San Francisco’s sanctuary city law, carving out new exceptions for contact between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials and clarifying language that advocates say will strengthen the provision.
“This ordinance before us is updating our sanctuary city ordinance to meet changes in federal immigration enforcement,” said Supervisor John Avalos, the sponsor of the legislation.
The new law allows communication with immigration officials only when the immigrant in custody has been convicted of a violent felony in the last seven years, has been convicted of a serious felony in the last five years, or has been convicted of three felonies in the last five years that would have landed them in state prison.
The sanctuary city ordinance — which was first passed in 1989 — prohibits city employees from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the investigation or arrest of those suspected of being in the country illegally.
Avalos said that because federal immigration officials had begun asking local law enforcement to contact them when they have an undocumented immigrant in custody instead of holding the immigrant until they can arrive, an update to the law was required that specifically prohibits communication with immigration officials.
The city’s new sheriff, Vicki Hennessy, fought the Avalos proposal earlier this year because it did not give her enough discretion to deal with immigrants on a case-by-case basis. She pointed to the controversial 2015 shooting of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant who had prior drug conviction for marijuana as a case in which she would want the ability to contact immigration officials.
But Hennessy said on Tuesday that the new measure does not allow for communication with immigration officials in cases like that of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who says he shot and killed Steinle by accident. The drug conviction for Lopez-Sanchez was from 1995 and his other conviction was for illegal re-entry into the country — not a violent or serious felony.
Hennessy said that after speaking with immigrant advocates and working “to the 11th hour” with Avalos on the legislation, she was satisfied with the outcome regardless.
“We have reached an agreement that would serve public safety and bring our communities together,” she said.
The old measure was unspecific as to communication with immigration officials, and in one case, an undocumented immigrant who lived in the Mission District was arrested by immigration officials just moments after reporting his car stolen at a police station.
Police officers at the station informed immigration officials that Pedro Figueroa, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, was at the station. He was arrested and detained for two months before being released and receiving an apology from then-Police Chief Greg Suhr. Immigrant advocates used the case to push for Avalos’s legislation.
Those some advocates were out in force on Tuesday, holding a rally with some 30 supporters on the interior City Hall rotunda steps in support of the new legislation.
“When we call law enforcement, we need to make sure that we are safe,” said Wendy Lara, a domestic violence survivor who said it was troubling that a call to the police might result in investigation of her immigration status. “Our message is clear: We want these collaborations to stop.”
Father Richard Smith, a pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church in the Mission District and advocate for police shooting victim Amilcar Perez-Lopez, said distrust has risen in the wake of recent police shootings, especially within the Latino community.
“The relationship between law enforcement and the community has never been so bad,” Smith said, invoking the shooting deaths of Alex Nieto, Perez-Lopez, and Luis Gongora, which occurred in or near the Mission District. “We need to end the fear. This is not the way God intended us to live.”
Supervisor Eric Mar voiced some dissent, saying he wished “we were not creating any more exceptions” for communication between law enforcement and immigration officials before joining the rest of the board in support.
Also on Tuesday, Supervisor Campos introduced a November ballot measure that would create a Public Advocate for San Francisco, an ombudsman position that would field complaints from citizens and address governance issues.
“The Public Advocate takes complaints to make sure that members of the public are treated fairly,” Campos said, citing issues ranging from mistaken parking tickets to police shootings. “It would investigate ongoing patterns or problems to address whatever the issue is — ineptitude, waste, corruption, you name it.”
Campos said both the Office of Citizen Complaints — an office under the mayor responsible for investigating police misconduct that has been questioned for being toothless as a watchdog — and the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement — another mayoral office responsible for enforcing labor law — should be placed under the proposed Office of the Public Advocate.
Campos’s proposal joined a slate of other proposals on Tuesday that would remove different city offices from mayoral oversight.
The outcry over the revelation that grass and picnic areas of Dolores Park could be reserved for a fee was another a topic at the Tuesday hearing. Supervisor Aaron Peskin announced he would seek amendments to the city’s park code to restrict picnic permitting in parks city-wide.
“It’s not okay, and it’s not been okay for quite a while,” Peskin said. “I think it’s time that we make some systematic changes and ensure that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen again.”
The permitting process was ended at Dolores Park just a day after it was first reported.