The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously passed an ordinance that exempts the city from a nationwide program that holds people who are arrested, even on minor charges, for potential deportation.
The ordinance, dubbed "Due Process for All," is a response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Secure Communities program. The program asks that authorities hold undocumented people charged with any crime in custody, even if they would normally be released, so federal agents can consider deportation.
Under the new ordinance, approved on Tuesday, unless an individual has a prior conviction for murder, sexual assault, trafficking or assault with a deadly weapon, San Francisco authorities would be unable to keep the person in custody based solely on immigration status.
ICE calls its Secure Communities program "a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE's priorities." But supporters of San Francisco's ordinance argue the program discourages undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes out of fear of deportation.
"It's very common for perpetrators -- especially those guilty of abuse or domestic violence -- to threaten a victim with the fear of deportation," Supervisor John Avalos, who authored the bill, told The Huffington Post. "Victims sometimes end up getting arrested when reporting abuse or a domestic dispute, and we've seen people actually getting deported by just trying to defend themselves. We want to build a trust between our citizens and police."
In a HuffPost blog post, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi penned a plea for support of the ordinance days before it was approved.
"Three years ago, a new federal deportation program promised to make us safer," Adachi wrote. "Instead, it has made the U.S. a more dangerous country for innocent people."
In San Francisco, however, where, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, half of the residents in Avalos' district were born outside of the U.S., legislators went a step further, including factors like rehabilitation efforts into consideration for an immigration hold.
The ordinance had opposition in its original form. An earlier version made no exceptions for violent offenders.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling for an amendment "to both ensure civil liberties and protect public safety." "I believe … we have the ability, and, frankly, the obligation to do both," he wrote.
The ordinance passed with amendments, including the exemption for people with previous convictions of serious violent crimes.