New Drug Case Puts San Francisco's Illegal Immigrant Sanctuary Policy Back in Spotlight

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A San Francisco court ruling that a 14-year-old illegal immigrant accused of dealing crack cocaine should be sent to foster care rather than face criminal prosecution is stirring fears that the city again is allowing undocumented aliens to buck the system.

Juvenile Court Commissioner Abby Abinanti said Monday that the Honduran boy, known only as Francisco G., should be considered a victim and receive treatment through the foster-care system. Barring federal intervention, that would allow him to stay in the United States, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Francisco G. was arrested on July 17 on a felony charge of suspicion of dealing crack cocaine. Abinanti decided it would be better for him to be turned over to social workers for placement in a group home, the paper reported. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have placed a "hold" on him for possible immigration.

The case is the city's latest involving suspects who have been shielded by the sanctuary San Francisco offers to illegal immigrants.

Last month, a reputed gang member from El Salvador, 21-year-old Edwin Ramos, was charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of two men and their father — killed, police said, in a case of mistaken identity. Ramos had been arrested at least three times prior to the shooting and evaded deportation due in part to San Francisco's sanctuary policy.

An investigation this summer by the Chronicle found that many juvenile offenders in the country illegally were escaping from youth homes and returning to San Francisco streets.

Mayor Gavin Newsom told Juvenile Probation Department officials earlier this year to end their practice of deporting juvenile offenders rather than telling federal officials. Before the command was issued, the 1989 "City of Refuge" policy prohibited city employees from informing ICE agents of the presence of illegal immigrants.

"The mayor has directed city officials to refer undocumented felons to ICE, regardless of age," Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Newsom told in an e-mail Wednesday. "If felons are not being referred to ICE, that would be inconsistent with city policy."

Ballard refused to comment on the specifics of the Francisco G. case.

But the Chronicle reported that Allen Nance, the assistant chief of the Juvenile Probation Department, warned the mayor of the case in a memo.

"If this minor returns to the community, I am very concerned that he will run from a nonsecure environment [such as a group home]," Nance wrote in the memo obtained by the Chronicle. "Further, our office is not in a position to effectively provide supervision services to an undocumented person without the risk of violating federal law."

Joseph P. Russoniello, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, has been a vocal critic of the city's handling of illegal immigrants, but he said he has seen improvements in its record.

ICE officials had the opportunity to interview Francisco G., and they continue to have a detainer on him, which shows a reversal of the city's prior juvenile offender policy, Russionello told

"I'm told by ICE that they are in virtual 100 percent compliance, the city and county," Russoniello said. "We have turned it around."

But the federal prosecutor says he worries that some are still trying to find ways to avoid compliance with federal law.

"We’re still concerned about whether there was any deliberate effort to manipulate the system to avoid a deportation, that could be considered harboring, but that investigation is continuing," Russoniello said.

It's only a matter of time, he said, until another case from the Juvenile Probation Department's past policy returns to haunt the city.

"Cases are going to continue to pop up where adults are being prosecuted, and it’s discovered that they have previously been arrested as juveniles and could have been deported but weren’t," Russoniello said. "So that may create additional liabilities for the city, but that’s their problem."

Click here to read more at the San Francisco Chronicle.