Even with this new policy, immigration authorities may still be able to find illegal youth who are protected by the city's new rules.
In fact, all teens' fingerprints will still be checked against the Department of Homeland Security's database to detect illegal immigrants as part of a federal program known as Secure Communities. The city was pushed into participating in the program last summer through an agreement between DHS and the state.If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants to initiate the deportation process against a person detected through Secure Communities, it alerts juvenile probation that the teen has an "ICE hold." Juvenile Probation Chief William Sifferman says that juvenile hall will continue to keep those youths in custody while they wait for immigration officials to come pick them up.
Juvenile probation "will continue to respond to all lawful detainers presented by the federal authorities, including those emanating out of either the secure communities initiative or following our department's notification," Sifferman wrote in an e-mail.
By those standards, juvenile hall rules are actually stricter than those of the county jails which house adults. Last week, Sheriff Michael Hennessey stated that as of June 1, the jail will no longer keep adult illegal immigrants who have been booked on minor misdemeanors in jail until federal immigration authorities can get them.
Still, illegal immigrant teens could still remain undetected even with Secure Communities in place. It's less likely that teens will have fingerprints in the federal database, says ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. The DHS has fingerprints only for people who've had prior contact with federal officials, including making an illegal entry into the United States.
"For the most part, juvenile aliens have not had a prior encounter with DHS, so the system wouldn't come up with a match," Kice wrote SF Weekly in an e-mail.
Indeed, San Francisco Police Commissioner Angela Chan, who advocates for shielding youth from immigration, pointed to a police commission audit which found that Secure Communities identifies only one to five matches among the teens in juvenile hall each month.