At today's (Tue/1) meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to grant final approval to Sup. John Avalos’ historic legislation, Due Process for All, which limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities under the Secure Communities program (S-Comm). But now that amendments have been incorporated in an effort to fend off a mayoral veto, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has raised questions about whether the law can actually be implemented as written.
With the aim of reducing deportations and extending the Constitutional right to due process to all San Francisco residents, the legislation prohibits local law enforcement from complying with requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain individuals who are otherwise eligible for release from custody. The requests are made under S-Comm, an information-sharing program between ICE, the California Department of Justice and the FBI that allows authorities to check fingerprints against immigration databases.
ICE issues civil detainer requests, which aren’t mandatory, asking local agencies to hold individuals for up to 48 hours to make time for the detainee to be taken into immigration custody. While warrants must be supported by probable cause, there is no such requirement for a detainer request.
An earlier draft of Avalos’ legislation barred the Sheriff’s department from ever honoring such requests. But now that the legislation has been amended with “carve-outs” directing the sheriff to comply with the ICE requests in certain cases, Sheriff Assistant Legal Counsel Mark Nicco is uncertain about whether his staff will actually be able to do the things the law requires of them.
"I ask that there be a consult about operational concerns. It’s the unintended consequences which brings me here before you today," Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told supervisors at the Sept. 24 meeting.
“The sheriff does want to comply with the intent and details of this legislation,” Nicco told us. But as things stood late last week, there were “concerns about whether we’d be able to implement certain aspects.” Nicco said his office has been meeting with the City Attorney and Avalos since the Sept. 24 meeting, in an effort to iron out some of those problems. “We want guidance on what their intent is, and for them to understand our physical roadblocks and operational issues," he said.
The amended legislation directs the sheriff’s department to detain someone in response to an ICE request in cases where that person has been “convicted of a violent felony in the seven years immediately prior.” But the definition states, oddly, “the date an individual is convicted starts from the date of release.”
That’s confusing, Nicco told us. For one thing, there’s a big difference between the date someone is convicted of a crime, and the date they’re released after having served time as punishment for that crime. Unless the person was arrested and held in San Francisco, Nicco said, “The date of release from a prior conviction is not something … we can easily determine.”
The second criteria for when a person can be detained for ICE presents another obstacle, Nicco said. According to the amended law, someone can be held if “a magistrate has determined that there is probable cause to believe the person is guilty of a violent felony and has ordered the individual to answer to the same.”
But Nicco said the Sheriff’s department has no ready access to this information. “We do not have access to whether a person has been held to answer a certain charge,” he explained. “We would have to go to Superior Court and request information.”
The carve-outs were added, in part, to garner enough votes for a veto-proof majority approval. Mayor Ed Lee had threatened to veto the law as it was previously written, and police chief Greg Suhr had expressed concerns that it would shield violent felons from deportation.
But those exceptions to the rule have resulted in a lack of clarity and obstacles to implementation, Nicco said. “If it were flat-out, no ICE detainers, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he noted.
A coalition of advocates from immigrant communities plans to attend the Tue/1 meeting to celebrate the final approval of the law, even though it is a compromised version.
“The amendments, unfortunately, do allow potentially unconstitutional immigration ‘holds’ under very limited circumstances,” advocates with the California Immigrant Policy Centered noted in a media advisory. “But the ordinance will protect most San Franciscans from the abusive requests.”