After his car was stolen, El Salvadoran national Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno went to the San Francisco Police Department to file a report. But when officers learned of a warrant for his arrest —
it remains unclear what kind — Figueroa-Zarceno was taken into custody and handed over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Correction: Per the Chronicle," Federal officials said Figueroa-Zarceno was the subject of a deportation order arising from his failure to appear at an immigration hearing in San Antonio in December 2005, and from a 2012 conviction for drunken driving."
The event was interpreted by many as a violation of San Francisco's local Sanctuary City Policy, a practice of non-cooperation between the SFPD and federal immigration authorities to protect immigrants like Figueroa-Zarceno from deportation, which he now faces. Specifically, the policy is an ordinance, established in 1989, that the city's sheriff should not deliver federal immigration authorities inmates with no legal status unless they carry with them a violent felony conviction from the past seven years and face another violent felony charge.
The case of Figueroa-Zarceno got Supervisor John Avalos, a self-appointed protector of the Sanctuary City policy, pretty fired up at the time."We want to make sure that as the sanctuary policy is politicized by what’s happening on a national level," Avalos said, "that we can protect it and make it stronger and make sure that people like Pedro do not get impacted."
To be precise, the current ordinance restricts local law enforcement from holding jailed inmates past their release date and communicating with immigration and customs officials in order to hand them over. Notifying federal authorities that an inmate is about to be release is not technically against the ordinance, although it sounds like such prerelease notifications are informally banned. Now, Avalos's extension would formalize the current practice of withholding such notifications.
The last vote on the subject, a defense of the ordinance, followed a public outcry that was particularly pitched in conservative media related to the killing of Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 the previous summer. That preceding spring, the Sheriff’s Department had released Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a man who had unlawfully re-entered the United States after his fifth deportation to Mexico. He has been charged in Steinle's shooting death, and most recently in the case, Lopez-Sanchez's defense sought the dismissal of murder charges, claiming that it's clear the shooting was the accidental outcome of a ricochet.
Then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was criticized for not handing over Lopez-Sanchez to immigration agents who sought to deport him a sixth time, though he maintained that city law restricted him from doing so. In fact, he had issued a department memo reiterating the policy, banning communication with immigration agents who might seek to deport jailed suspects. But current Sheriff Vicki Hennessy campaigned on the claim that she favored notifying federal agents of inmates with serious convictions who might be released. Hennessy reportedly testifies at the hearing today.
"We cannot allow one event to dictate 25 years of our city’s policies toward undocumented immigrants," Supervisor Malia Cohen said in October, referencing the Sanchez-Lopez case." [We] cannot allow hateful conservative news stations to drive how we make policy decisions here in San Francisco," she added.