San Francisco Isn't Budging On Sanctuary Policies For Undocumented Immigrants

The city wouldn't let pundits dictate its policy, one supervisor said.
Jim Steinle, second from left, testified in a Senate hearing about the death of his daughter, Kathryn Steinle. Her alleged ki
Jim Steinle, second from left, testified in a Senate hearing about the death of his daughter, Kathryn Steinle. Her alleged killer is an unauthorized immigrant.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is standing behind the city's sanctuary policies in the face of attacks from Congress, presidential candidates and a number of other conservative pundits who blame them for a woman's death this summer.

The board passed a nonbinding resolution on Tuesday that supports the sheriff's policy of releasing most undocumented immigrants from custody without notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The vote was unanimous, and board members said they would not allow outside politicians and pundits to dictate the city and county's policy.

"They don’t influence how I make my decisions here in San Francisco," Supervisor Malia Cohen said at the meeting, according to The New York Times.

The vote came the same day as Senate Democrats blocked a Republican-led bill that would have penalized so-called sanctuary cities, including San Francisco, by denying them certain federal law enforcement grants.

San Francisco limits its cooperation with ICE except in certain circumstances, such as if the city is holding an immigrant for a violent felony charge and that person has a separate violent felony conviction from the past seven years. The policy earned national scrutiny in July after an undocumented man, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was charged with murdering 32-year-old Kate Steinle. Lopez-Sanchez had already been deported five times and, until March, had been in prison since 2011 for illegally re-entering the country, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

After serving time in prison, Lopez-Sanchez was transferred to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department on a 20-year-old drug charge, but prosecutors dropped the charge and the sheriff's office released him without notifying ICE -- something the agency has urged it and other jurisdictions to do.

Steinle's family filed lawsuits in September against San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, along with the Bureau of Land Management. The bureau says the gun Lopez-Sanchez allegedly used in the shooting was stolen from one of its agentsLopez-Sanchez says he found the gun and fired it by accident, and has pleaded not guilty.

Steinle's death prompted a flurry of legislation in Congress against sanctuary cities, and one bill passed in the House in July. The Senate bill received 54 votes -- including from Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana -- but not enough to cross the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward.

Most Democrats have said that Steinle's death, although tragic, should not mean jurisdictions should be forced to change policies that local officials say make immigrants more likely to cooperate with police.

That sentiment was echoed at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting.

"We cannot allow one event to dictate 25 years of our city’s policies toward undocumented immigrants," Cohen said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "More importantly, we cannot allow hateful conservative news stations to drive how we make policy decisions here in San Francisco."

"We can talk all we want about improving public safety in this building, but if people in our community don’t trust law enforcement, no level of police staffing is going to make our community safe," she added.

The board also voted 6 to 5 to table a resolution that would have forced the sheriff to rescind the order that prevented his staff from sharing certain information with ICE. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, a Democrat, opposes the policy and has urged the sheriff to notify ICE before releasing undocumented immigrants with felony convictions.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced that resolution, said the board's decision to table it "flies in the face of public safety," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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