San Francisco's mayor said Tuesday that the city will no longer automatically report illegal immigrant youths to federal authorities when they are arrested on felony charges a shift he said stays true to the city's longstanding sanctuary city policy.
Mayor Edwin Lee told the Board of Supervisors at its weekly meeting that juveniles who are first-time offenders, enrolled in school and can show family ties to the San Francisco Bay area would not be reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Lee said his directive follows the intent of San Francisco's 22-year-old Sanctuary City ordinance, which requires local officials not to hand immigrants to federal authorities unless they're charged with serious crimes.
Lee's position falls in the middle ground between his predecessor Gavin Newsom's hard-line policy toward arrested juveniles and the more liberal stance adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors passed a law in 2009 that would have required the city to report only juveniles who have been convicted of felonies not just arrested. Newsom refused to enforce it.
The new policy will be carried out by the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department and was crafted after discussions with civil rights attorneys and top law enforcement officials, Lee said.
"I've had to take care in balancing the issue of public safety and also due process,'' Lee told the supervisors.
Since 2008, the probation department has reported all 159 minors arrested on felony charges to ICE, including 110 with felony convictions, said William Sifferman, the chief juvenile probation
"I don't think public safety will be imperiled,'' Sifferman told the Chronicle when asked about the policy shift.
Lee said he hopes the policy will withstand federal scrutiny.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, declined to comment on the mayor's edict. She told the Chronicle the agency's enforcement priorities would continue to ``focus on the identification and removal of foreign nationals who pose a public safety threat.''
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey recently announced that the county jail soon will begin releasing illegal immigrants being held for low-level offenses, even if ICE officials request that
they remain in custody. Hennessey said he is simply trying to obey the Sanctuary City ordinance.
The ordinance came under heavy criticism in 2008 after the fatal shooting of city resident Tony Bologna and his sons, Michael and Matthew. The suspect, Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, had been protected by the sanctuary city policy during earlier arrests when he was a juvenile.
The victims' relatives later filed a lawsuit against the city claiming the policy contributed to the murders by shielding Ramos from immigration authorities. In February, a state appeals court
rejected that claim.