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San Francisco officials vote to reject most immigration holds

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SAN FRANCISCO – Supervisors here have approved a policy under which local law enforcement would deny requests by immigration authorities to hold arrestees for potential deportation in all but a handful of instances.

The "Due Process for All" ordinance -- unanimously approved Tuesday in packed chambers to chants and cheers -- comes largely as a response to the federal immigration program known as Secure Communities, which requires that fingerprints taken at the time of arrest in local jails nationwide be shared with immigration authorities.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can then request 48-hour holds of individuals believed to be in the country illegally, giving agents time to fetch them from local lock-ups.

While the stated intent of Secure Communities was to prioritize deportations of those convicted of serious and violent crimes, it has come under widespread scrutiny for ensnaring a greater number of those convicted of misdemeanors or no crimes at all.

San Francisco’s ordinance, which requires a second vote next week but is expected to sail through, initially called for zero cooperation with immigration authorities on requested holds, but was amended Tuesday to allow for holds in limited cases.

The adopted version -- supported by the mayor, sheriff, district attorney and police chief -- permits law enforcement to “consider” honoring a hold only if the subject has over the last seven years been convicted of a violent felony, human trafficking, felony assault with a deadly weapon or the use of a gun in the commission of felony, and is currently charged with one of those crimes.

Even in those instances, local law enforcement will have to take into account evidence of rehabilitation, the existence of U.S.-born children and other factors that could be mitigating.

The ordinance was brought to the board by the city’s immigrant community and immigrant rights advocates, and included testimony from a number of domestic violence victims who were placed in deportation proceedings after calling police for help.

Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the measure with seven co-sponsors, said it was about “disentangling our criminal justice system from civil immigration enforcement, so all members of our community do not have to hesitate before they call for help.”

Said Supervisor David Campos: “San Francisco is sending a very clear message that local law enforcement is here to protect the public and not to become an arm of immigration…. Whether it’s the sheriff’s office [or] the San Francisco Police Department, we want our residents, irrespective of their immigration status, to trust us.”

The measure passed as immigrant right advocates statewide await Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision on the Trust Act, which would implement a similar -- though slightly less restrictive -- reform throughout California.

A number of jurisdictions nationwide do not respond to any ICE holds while others – including the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department – have declined to honor hold requests for minor offenders.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, meanwhile, who is president of the California State Sheriffs Association, has said local law enforcement should defer to federal authorities on immigration matters. The association opposes the Trust Act.

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