Would U.S. Attorney's Departure Be Magic Bullet For Sanctuary City?

No matter how many aggrieved citizens and legal experts immigrant advocates trot before the public in support of Supervisor David Campos' new amendment to the city's sanctuary law, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Juvenile Probation Chief William Siffermann have repeated the same line: They can't offer more protections to undocumented juvenile suspects as long as U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello refuses to shelve the possibility he will prosecute the city for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants.

But Russoniello, a longtime immigration hardliner and one of the few Bush-era U.S. attorneys still holding a job, is closer than ever to being replaced — and that's left San Francisco officials and lawyers wondering whether an Obama appointee in Northern California will make the crucial difference for sanctuary.

Local white-collar defense attorney Melinda Haag, Russoniello's likely replacement, began a weeks-long FBI background check in early February, the Recorder legal newspaper has reported. President Obama has moved slowly on appointing U.S. attorneys, but as midterm elections approach, the White House will need to get its nominations in soon.

Haag, a former federal prosecutor with experience on civil rights cases, is an unknown quantity when it comes to immigration enforcement. But some involved in San Francisco's sanctuary debate believe that anyone but Russoniello will give the city the breathing space it needs. Haag herself declined to comment.

“Joe Russoniello is, hands down, the biggest obstacle to even modest due process modifications for juvenile offenders,” said one City Hall source familiar with Russoniello's more-than-year-old investigation into San Francisco's sanctuary practices.

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