San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today deflected calls to force Mayor Gavin Newsom to implement the city’s new sanctuary ordinance, citing a provision in the legislation that allows the city to stop short of violating state or federal law.

Herrera was responding to a request last week by Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the legislation. The law amends the sanctuary ordinance to prohibit undocumented youth accused of felonies from being reported to federal immigration authorities until conviction.

The legislation, which required an overturn of a veto by Newsom, went into effect Dec. 10.
The Juvenile Probation Department, which has for more than a year been reporting suspected undocumented youth at the booking stage after a felony arrest, has to change its policies and practices to comply with the new ordinance within 60 days of its inception.

Campos had asked Herrera to weigh in on whether Newsom, who has said he won’t implement the legislation, has the authority “to unilaterally refuse to implement the duly-enacted” law.

Newsom argued implementation would put city employees at risk of being sued in federal court.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello has refused to provide assurances he won’t do so.

In a memorandum issued today, Herrera noted that the legislation contains a provision that the Juvenile Probation Department implement the ordinance “to the extent permitted by state and federal law.”

Herrera’s office said the rare provision was added at Campos’ request “to enable us to approve the Ordinance as to form.”

The provision requires that the Juvenile Probation Department “make the judgment about the extent to which current state and federal law allow it to change its reporting to implement the Ordinance’s new policy,” Herrera wrote.

Campos, who has said his legislation is about civil rights and due process for undocumented immigrant youth, argued in his letter that only the courts have the authority to decide whether passed legislation is indeed valid.

Herrera today reiterated his earlier caution advising that the Juvenile Probation Department “may not take any adverse employment action against an employee who provides information to immigration authorities about a juvenile, until federal authorities change their position or the courts clarify federal law.”

Herrera added that it was up to the probation department to decide what policy changes it makes.

He said the city attorney’s office would continue “to be an aggressive legal advocate for the measure’s validity” but that its role “is limited to giving legal advice and not directing action.”

Immigrant rights groups who have been assailing Newsom on the issue have now targeted Herrera’s office.

A group calling itself the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee issued a statement today demanding that Herrera “stop protecting Mayor Newsom’s racially discriminatory, anti-immigrant policy.”

The group organized a rally in front of City Hall this afternoon.

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