Today we woke up to the news that Sheriff Michael Hennessey has found a loophole in the federal fingerprinting program that identifies illegal immigrants in the county jail.
And as of June 1, Hennessey will no longer hold illegal immigrants booked into county jail on minor misdemeanors until immigration officials come pick them up. Hennessey tells SF Weekly that the new policy -- which the department created without consulting Mayor Ed Lee -- will reconcile the city's sanctuary city policy with the federal fingerprinting program known as Secure Communities (or S-Comm).
Hennessey and the Board of Supervisors were pushed into implementing
S-Comm last summer because of the state's agreement with U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under the program, people jailed -- even
on minor misdemeanors, including trespassing or driving on a suspended license -- still have their fingerprints checked against a federal database to catch illegal immigrants. But this defies the city's sanctuary city policy,
which allows officials to report illegal immigrants who have been accused of felonies. If ICE
wants to start deportation proceedings, it will place
an ICE detainer -- meaning a hold -- on the immigrant in hopes that the jail will keep them in custody.
But Hennessey says he discovered that keeping immigrants with ICE holds behind bars is a courtesy, not mandatory. He learned this after meeting last fall with the director of Secure Communities, David Venturella.
"At that meeting, he explained to me that ICE detainers
are merely a request, they don't have the legal requirement of being
honored," he told SF Weekly
this morning "So after that, I started thinking about our city of refuge
ordinance that made us cooperate with ICE on felonies, but not
Hennessey decided the new policy honors both.
Suspects charged with minor misdemeanors will be included in the new policy
-- crimes that the sheriff's department would otherwise
"cite out," meaning the person is released from jail after they sign an agreement to appear in court at a future date. This includes driving with a suspended license, trespassing, possession of small amounts
of marijuana, or petty thefts with no priors.
The sheriff's department doesn't "cite out" more serious misdemeanors, such as gun violence or sex offenses. Under the new policy, those suspects will
still be held at county jails until ICE officials pick them up, Hennessey says.
Hennessey reminded us that he is an "independently elected official," and doesn't need to
consult with other city officials about the new policy. In recent years,
Hennessey has made an indelible mark on his department by consistently defending immigrants -- and he's certainly felt the blowback from
anti-immigrant forces all over the country.
Given his activist role in progressive politics we wondered what the sheriff will be doing once he retires in January. Much to our surprise he told us: "take loooong, romantic walks on the beach with my wife."