U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello on Thursday, responding to an inquiry by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said he couldn’t guarantee city employees who implement the city’s revised sanctuary ordinance would be immune from federal prosecution.

The new law, passed by the Board of Supervisors after overturning a veto by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Nov. 10, amends the sanctuary ordinance to prohibit undocumented youth accused of felonies from being reported to federal immigration authorities until conviction.

The city has for more than a year been reporting adults and juveniles suspected of being in the country illegally to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the booking stage after a felony arrest.

The new legislation is set to go into effect next Thursday. After that, the Juvenile Probation Department has 60 days to change its policies and practices to comply with the ordinance.

Herrera, who approved the drafting of the ordinance authored by Supervisor David Campos but at the same time warned it might put the city at risk for lawsuits, wrote Russoniello after the veto overturn asking for assurances that city law enforcement and employees will not face federal prosecution by implementing it.

Herrera’s office was also quick to post Russoniello’s response Thursday on its Web site.
Russoniello wrote in the letter that “it probably will come as no surprise to you that I have no authority, discretionary or otherwise, to grant amnesty from federal prosecution to anyone who follows the protocol set out in the referenced ordinance.”

He went on to say that “not every case” in which there is evidence a federal crime has been committed and belief a conviction can be obtained do prosecutors file charges, for a variety of reasons, including the “limited resources” of his department.

Russoniello mentioned that all illegal immigrants, including juveniles accused of serious crimes such as selling drugs or being gang members, “are subject to deportation regardless of whether they are convicted or not.”

He added that “enforcement priority is directed toward those persons whose arrests evidence probable cause to believe they pose a threat to their communities.”

“Of the numerous proposals advancing immigration law reform, none that I am aware of provide for or hint at, for that matter, creating a mechanism whereby illegal aliens who have or are engaged in dangerous criminal misconduct will be entitled to adjustment of their status or any other favorable treatment, which is why shielding them from detection by federal authorities now is not only potentially illegal but probably futile,” Russoniello said.

Herrera also wrote in his Nov. 10 letter that if Russoniello could not provide assurance he would not prosecute, he “may be compelled to explore with City policymakers other options regarding the implementation and enforcement” of the amendment.

One option includes the possibility of Herrera’s office filing its own federal lawsuit seeking a ruling from the court on the validity of the amendment.

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