POLITICS

Year after pier shooting, San Francisco plans to make changes to sanctuary city policy

Father Cameron Faller and Julio Escobar conduct a vigil for Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 in San Francisco, July 6, 2015.

Father Cameron Faller and Julio Escobar conduct a vigil for Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 in San Francisco, July 6, 2015.  (ap)

Almost a year after a fatal shooting on a crowded pier in San Francisco set off a national debate over immigration and so-called sanctuary cities, officials there are considering a proposal to clarify the city's guidelines under which federal deportation authorities could be contacted if an undocumented immigrant commits a crime. 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a proposal that directs law officers to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement only if the person detained is charged with a violent crime and has been convicted within the last seven years.

Current San Francisco law contains a leeway for city employees to contact ICE when they encounter people who are living in the country illegally and not in jail. For those in custody, the previous sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, required federal officials to get a warrant or court notice to hold an inmate facing possible deportation and forbade staff from talking to immigration authorities.

The new sheriff repealed the communication ban, but the San Francisco Sheriff's Department generally does not cooperate with ICE.

The vote comes after the shooting death of a 32-year-old Kate Steinle almost a year ago, as she was walking along a San Francisco pier with her father. She was shot by a Mexican national facing drug charges who had been released from San Francisco's jail despite a federal request to keep him in custody for deportation. The backlash against city leaders was fierce.

Republicans in Congress sought to punish cities like San Francisco, which is among hundreds of jurisdictions that decline to honor federal immigration requests, or "detainers." Even prominent Democrats, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, criticized Mirkarimi, saying repeat drug offender Juan Francisco Sánchez-López should have been detained.

Supervisor John Avalos, the legislation's chief sponsor and longtime immigration advocate, said the ordinance reaffirms the message to immigrants that they won't be deported for reporting a crime or cooperating with police. "We want to keep that clear separation," he said.

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who took office in January, opposes the legislation, saying that she should have discretion about when to notify federal immigration officials. As a constitutionally elected official, she doesn't have to follow board orders.

Under the proposed ordinance, Steinle's accused killer would still have been released from jail.

Would Sánchez-López have been detained under the sheriff's new criteria? "I'm not going to say with certainty, but what I can say with certainty is that he would have been looked at," Hennessy said before the vote Tuesday.

Sanctuary-city critics continue to chastise San Francisco officials. But immigration advocates say a bright-line rule is needed to protect people such as Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno. The El Salvador native is in deportation proceedings after going to San Francisco police last year to report his car missing. He was in custody for two months.

"What happened to me was an injustice," he said through an interpreter Monday. "They unjustly deprived me of my liberties for two months."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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