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San Francisco board urges sheriff to support city's sanctuary status

San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday affirmed the city's status as an immigrant sanctuary, unanimously approving a resolution urging the sheriff not to participate in a detainer-notification system. 

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Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on July 7, 2015. Mr. Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national, is the main suspect in the the July 1 waterfront shooting of Kate Steinle, whose death cast an uncomfortable spotlight on a city that proudly declares itself a refuge for immigrants.

Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle/AP/File

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San Francisco supervisors vigorously reaffirmed the city's status as a sanctuary city, nearly four months after a woman was killed by a Mexican national who had been released from jail despite federal requests to detain him for deportation proceedings.

The board on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution urging the sheriff not to participate in a detainer-notification system that asks jails to let Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials know when an inmate of interest is being released.

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The actions sent a strong but symbolic message to critics who had lambasted the city after the July 1 waterfront shooting of Kate Steinle, including Senate Republicans in Congress who tried but failed earlier in the day to push legislation punishing so-called sanctuary cities.

The death of Ms. Steinle cast an uncomfortable spotlight on a city that proudly declares itself a refuge for immigrants. As outrage mounted nationally, US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, criticized San Francisco's sheriff, saying that suspect Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez should have been detained.

Mr. Sanchez-Lopez says he found the gun under a bench on the pier, and it accidently fired when he picked it up.

"All of us in this room agree that the death of Kathryn Steinle was senseless and tragic, but what many of us disagree on is the role – if any – that San Francisco's existing sanctuary and due-process-for-all" ordinances played in the event, Supervisor Malia Cohen said, to cheers from the crowd gathered.

Supervisors said they wouldn't let hateful commentary undermine a long-standing policy that improves public safety and embraces immigrants.

"There are many jurisdictions in this state, and in this country, that are looking to what San Francisco does," said Supervisor David Campos, who co-sponsored the nonbinding resolution.

Roy Beck, director of NumbersUSA, which calls for limiting immigration, said it's frightening that supervisors are siding with immigrants who are in the country illegally – even violent ones – rather than public safety.

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San Francisco declared itself a sanctuary city in 1989, passing an ordinance that bans city officials from enforcing immigration laws or asking about immigration status unless required by law or court order. A follow-up ordinance in 2013 allows detention only under a court order targeting violent felons.

San Francisco and other cities and counties have routinely ignored requests from ICE to keep people in custody. The jurisdictions say they can't hold arrestees beyond their scheduled release dates without probable cause.

However, more than half of the roughly 340 jurisdictions that previously declined to cooperate with ICE are now doing so in some form, as long as they don't have to keep immigrants in custody.

The shift came after outreach by federal immigration officials and several high-profile cases, including the one in San Francisco.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said on Tuesday through a spokeswoman that the unanimous vote validates his policy.

Supervisors on Tuesday also voted to table another resolution urging the sheriff to revoke a department-wide memo prohibiting communication between his staff and federal immigration authorities, saying that it would send the wrong message to people living in the city illegally.