Ross Mirkarimi is no longer Sheriff, but his controversial order barring deputies from tipping off immigration when a jail inmate eligible for deportation is released is still at the center of a debate over San Francisco's “Sanctuary City” policy.
The fatal shooting this summer of Kate Steinle by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez — a homeless, undocumented Mexican national who had been sprung from County Jail a few months prior — became a campaign prop for the likes of Donald Trump. It may also have been the final straw for Mirkarimi in the eyes of voters, who elected current Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to replace him by a 2-to-1 margin in November.
At least, that's how Supervisor John Avalos sees it.
“Last year, the whole Sanctuary City got criticized [and] used as a tool to bash [Mirkarimi],” Avalos said. “It was used to show he was coddling immigrants in the jail system — it was turned into a campaign issue.”
On the campaign trail, Hennessy pledged to rescind the memo and reopen communication between her deputies and officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
She didn't say how or when, nor has she offered further detail since taking office — except that “the sanctuary policy will be different,” she told KRON-4 in a recent interview.
As of press time Tuesday, she still had yet to specify, and Mirkarimi's memo was still in effect.
“The change has not happened yet,” said Eileen Hurst, Hennessy's chief of staff, who added that the new sheriff will “bring the immigrant advocate community into the loop.”
Currently not in the loop, however, are advocates like Avalos, who says he's received “mixed messages” from Hennessy's crew.
“She hasn't given me any clear indication as to what changes she's making,” he said. “She says, on the one hand, she would follow the will of the Board of Supervisors. And on the other, she would like to have discretion over what she called 'career criminals.'”
In general, dropping a dime to immigration when a deportation-eligible inmate is released flies in the face of the city's entire Sanctuary City policy.
“We don't believe deportation is a tool of public safety,” Avalos says. “She says quite the opposite.”
But on one aspect of the city's immigration policy, Avalos and Hennessy seem to be in agreement. Avalos has proposed a law that would bar the city's participation in the federal “Priority Enforcement Program,” which would allow federal immigration authorities to take custody of certain convicted criminals.
Hennessy also opposes PEP, saying it provides too much latitude for federal immigration agents to make “snap judgements.”
It remains to be seen if that shared opposition to PEP will translate to agreement on other aspects of Sheriff department policy — or if the Board will make Hennessy's tough choices for her.