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Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama's Jailhouse Immigrant Plan May Spell Problems for Sanctuary City

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2009 at 10:47 PM

click to enlarge SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY!
  • SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY!

News came out this week that the Obama administration will continue to roll out a Bush-era program to check every immigrant booked at a local jail against a national fingerprint database to see if they have been convicted of a crime and ordered deported. The administration and Democrats say the program will help focus on deporting law-breaking illegal immigrants instead of the upstanding ones.

With the program currently functioning in 48 counties nationwide, Los Angeles slated to start later this year, and all local jails by 2012, you know where this is going, San Francisco. When told about this Friday, San Francisco Police Department Spokesperson Sgt. Lyn Tomioka asked our question for us: "What will this do to the sanctuary city policy?"

A quick primer: It's long been the policy of the SFPD to only alert immigration officials to a person's immigration status if they are booked for a felony. So folks picked up for such misdemeanors as public intoxication, shoplifting, or a traffic violation aren't handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That's even if a background check alerts the police that they have a warrant from immigration authorities, Tomioka says. (Of course, there's always the chance that the immigrant could be picked up in one of ICE's sweeps of the jail while in custody.)

But the city policy came under scrutiny after the Chronicle wrote last year that the juvenile probation department was shielding felons from deportation by flying them back to their countries on the city's tab. The media maelstrom caused Mayor Gavin Newsom to pull an about face on the measure, and the kids are now handed over to ICE.

The Obama plan would create yet another challenge to San Francisco's much-touted haven policy. Yet there still might be some loopholes: The feds say that the plan will only work in those cases in which the immigrant has fingerprints on record taken by U.S. authorities. Tomioka says that, currently,on "cite and release"-type crimes such as shoplifting or public intox, only one fingerprint is taken on the ticket itself, which isn't run through a computer.

Of course all that could change. It's enough to start wondering if San Francisco's controversial law will have to start bending more and more to stay in compliance with Uncle Sam.

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Lauren Smiley

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