Immigration noncompliance policies far from exclusive to San Francisco

By Eric Kurhi, San Jose Mercury News

July 08–While San Francisco is taking heat because of its status as a “sanctuary city” that allowed the release of a serial deportee who has been charged with homicide, such noncompliance policies abound in the Bay Area and throughout the state.

The overarching law of the land is the statewide Trust Act that took effect in 2014, which only allows local authorities to hold people for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials if they have been convicted of serious or violent felonies. With felony drug convictions, Sanchez could have been held for ICE in accordance with the Trust Act, but such a hold is optional. Cities such as Oakland and Berkeley and, more importantly, counties such as Alameda andSanta Clara, also have additional restrictions regarding cooperating with ICE.

“It’s hard to say what would have happened elsewhere,” said former Santa Clara County prosecutor and legal analyst Steven Clark. “I do think this isn’t necessarily just a San Francisco issue — I think other cities will take notice of a tremendously negative reaction from the public.”

Santa Clara County has a policy in which individuals won’t be held in immigration enforcement cases unless they’ve been convicted of “serious or violent” offenses, but includes an unusual caveat that the federal government must reimburse the county for the cost of holding an inmate. Because ICE does not offer such payment, the “serious or violent” conditions are moot and it is never used, something that two supervisors unsuccessfully tried to change in 2013.

“I don’t know if people were sincere in their desire for reimbursement,” said Supervisor Joe Simitian at the time, “or if they knew full well that this was a poison pill when it was added to policy.”

Simitian’s staff and county officials said there’s no current movement to change the policy.

And Santa Clara County policy also dictates that unless ICE has a criminal warrant, it will not be told about pending release dates. Since Sanchez’s deportation was a civil matter, ICE officials said it does not appear they would have been informed about his release.

County spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell said they do not have enough information on Sanchez’s background to comment on what may have happened.

Alameda County won’t comply with hold requests in civil matters, but Sheriff Greg Ahern said it will notify ICE of an impending release if requested due to serious criminal history, gang affiliation or terrorist ties.

Contra Costa County follows a model based on the Trust Act for detentions, and is still determining its notification policy.

Berkeley and Oakland policies also dictate noncompliance, but the onus for notification or enforcing a hold is ultimately the county jail’s responsibility. San Francisco is a unique sanctuary city because it is also a county, thus is in charge of the jail.

Sanctuary policy advocates say that ICE compliance has a chilling effect on reporting of crime in immigrant communities — particularly domestic violence cases in which family members could see a relative deported.

However, Clark questioned whether Sanchez — who has a string of convictions going back to misdemeanor “inhaling toxic vapors” in 1991 through felony heroin possession and narcotics manufacturing convictions and a 1997 arrest for assault — is the variety of immigrant that lenient laws aim to shelter.

“When you release someone with seven felonies, I ask if this is the person we should be giving sanctuary to,” he said. “From the federal perspective, he entered the country illegally a number of times — that’s a fairly serious federal offense, not some petty deal.”

Clark said he expects to see finger-pointing turn into political revisiting of how local jurisdictions deal with ICE requests.

“The feds have the power of the purse strings,” he said. “It costs a lot of money to catch these guys, and then to just release him without notification? They might say, ‘If you don’t cooperate with us, we won’t cooperate with you,’ when San Francisco makes a funding request.”

But San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston said he didn’t think Sanchez’s case would ultimately have much bearing on public opinion regarding sanctuary laws and ICE compliance.

“Those people who don’t believe in immigration reform will stay that way,” he said, “and those who do will shrug their shoulders and say, ‘That’s a bad apple in a good barrel.'”

Matthew Artz contributed to this report. Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at

Sanctuary laws

San Francisco is a designated “sanctuary city” and, as such, does not comply with federal requests to hold inmates with immigration issues or notify agents about a release date. Other Bay Area counties, which run the jails, aren’t official “sanctuary” sites but do have restrictions with compliance.

Alameda County: Will not honor civil hold requests; will notify of pending release if subject has serious crime convictions, gang or terrorist affiliation.

Contra Costa County: Will hold inmates with serious or violent convictions. Still determining notification policy.

Santa Clara County: Will not honor hold requests for civil matters; will notify of pending release only if ICE has criminal warrant for subject.


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