sanctuary_logo.gifA San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee today approved legislation to amend the city’s sanctuary policy on reporting undocumented youth accused of felonies, pushing the city’s legislators closer to a standoff with Mayor Gavin Newsom on the issue.

The board’s Public Safety Committee passed the ordinance–which would mandate those youth be referred by the city to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement only after conviction and not arrest–by a 2 to 1 vote.

The full board is expected to take an initial vote on the proposal on Oct. 20.

Though the legislation currently has the support of a veto-proof majority of eight supervisors, Newsom has promised to veto it, citing concerns the city and its employees would be exposed to legal action.

Supervisors David Chiu and Ross Mirkarimi voted in favor today, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier against.

Chiu said the proposal strikes “the right balance” between due process and public safety. Alioto-Pier said she recognized the need for immigration reform, but was concerned about legal exposure for the city.

Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the ordinance, today called his proposal “civil rights legislation” and “a very narrow and measured amendment” to the sanctuary policy.

He drew comparisons to former city Supervisor Harvey Milk’s work on behalf of gay rights.
“We in San Francisco need to do something that is consistent with the values that have defined us as a city,” Campos said.

San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, enacted in 1989, prohibits city employees from assisting federal immigration authorities, but there are exceptions that include reporting persons booked for felony crimes.

Newsom changed the policy last year after it was revealed the city was not reporting juveniles arrested for felonies to ICE, a move intended to bring the city into compliance with state and federal laws, according to the mayor’s office.

Currently the juvenile probation department refers such youth to ICE when they are booked after their arrest, before court proceedings.

Immigration rights groups have strongly supported Campos’ legislation, arguing the current policy demonizes undocumented immigrants, encourages racial profiling, and denies undocumented juveniles due process in court.

Campos today urged the committee to “stand on the right side of history.”

Several members of the public also testified at today’s hearing, most in support of the legislation.

Many described a climate of greater fear in the immigrant community, and said crimes are now going unreported because of worry that those talking to police will be subject to deportation.

“Tearing apart families is not the answer,” said Diana Oliva, of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee. “The current undocumented youth policy actually shatters families.”

Angela Chan, an attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, said criminal charges against more than half of all youth arrested and reported to San Francisco’s juvenile probation department in 2008 were subsequently not sustained. She added that 160 youths have been referred by San Francisco to ICE since the mayor changed the policy.

Chan said the effort to have juveniles referred to ICE only at conviction was an “important first step” that she said should eventually include adults as well.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard argued that Campos’ legislation, should it pass, would be “unenforceable.”

Ballard said state and federal laws prohibit the city from forcing its employees to stop notifying federal immigration authorities, an opinion backed up by a confidential memo from the city attorney’s office.

Though the city attorney’s office approved a draft of Campos’ ordinance, the memo expressed concern passage could damage the city’s chances in current lawsuits against its sanctuary policy, and expose the city to further federal legal action, possibly jeopardizing the entire sanctuary policy.

“Based on the primacy of federal law and in light of potential federal criminal liability, we historically have advised and will continue to advise City officials, including the Juvenile Probation Department, that until further clarification by the federal courts, federal law prohibits the City from taking any adverse action against a City official or employee who reports a juvenile to federal immigration authorities,” the Aug. 18 memo said.

Newsom authorized the leak of the memo to members of the media in August.

“The mayor will not put our law enforcement officials in legal jeopardy,” Ballard said today.

“The mayor reformed the sanctuary city policy last year, in order to protect it,” said Ballard. “Now the board of supervisors is pouring gasoline all over it, and lighting a match.”

Ballard further called the “due process” argument “a bogus one.”

The city attorney’s office has noted a prior California court ruling that a person’s due process rights are not violated when law enforcement investigating a crime receive information a person arrested may not be a legal resident, and report that person to federal immigration authorities.

Campos maintained that the city attorney’s office had “carefully vetted” his legislation, and disagreed that it was unenforceable.

It’s not yet certain what would happen if the board were to pass the legislation, but Newsom were to refuse to implement it.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Campos said.

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