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Undocumented immigrant may get $190K to settle "sanctuary city" lawsuit

"Sanctuary city" lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco taxpayers could soon pay $190,000 in a lawsuit settlement with an undocumented immigrant who claimed he was reported to federal immigration authorities in violation of the city's "sanctuary city" ordinance, the City Attorney's Office confirmed to CBS San Francisco station KPIX-TV.

The settlement is expected to be confirmed by San Francisco supervisors in future hearings.

Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno walked into a police station on Dec. 2, 2015, to recover his stolen car.

When he left the station, he was immediately taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A document from federal immigration authorities released by his attorneys indicates that a San Francisco police officer directly contacted ICE and told them where to find Figueroa-Zarceno, the man's attorneys and representatives said.

Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno is seen in a photo provided to CBS San Francisco station KPIX-TV by Jon Rooney.
Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno is seen in a photo provided to CBS San Francisco station KPIX-TV by Jon Rooney. Jon Rooney

The incident, which led to the two-month detention of Figueroa-Zarceno, could be a violation of so-called "sanctuary city" policies placing limits on local law enforcement's ability to cooperate with immigration officials, according to his attorneys.

Figueroa-Zarceno, a native of El Salvador with a fiancee who is a U.S. citizen and an 8-year-old daughter, was released Feb. 3, 2016.

Speaking through an interpreter, Figueroa-Zarceno said that once he was at the station he was detained and handcuffed and told that police needed to ask him questions. No questions were asked, but after a few minutes he was released out a side door, where an ICE agent was waiting outside to detain him.

"I could hear my daughter screaming outside the van, 'Dad! Dad!'" he said. "I could hear her telling them not to take her dad."

The city approved a sanctuary city policy in 1989 prohibiting city officials from enforcing immigration laws in most cases as a way to encourage immigrant communities to trust and cooperate with police.

A second 2013 ordinance, Due Process for All, prohibits San Francisco law enforcement from detaining people on behalf of immigration authorities for deportation unless they are wanted for a serious crime.

Figueroa-Zarceno's attorneys said the released ICE document indicates that the sheriff's department contacted ICE on Dec. 2, 2015, stating that a "final order fugitive" had been contacted by San Francisco police.

At the same time, the document states, a San Francisco police officer contacted the ICE duty officer directly and told him Figueroa-Zarceno was at the police station. He was taken into custody by ICE around half an hour later.

ICE officials confirmed the detention but would not comment on the released documents.

Zachary Nightingale, Figueroa-Zarceno's attorney, said the document shows that while he served two days for a DUI in 2012, there were no criminal warrants for Figueroa-Zarceno in the system, only a civil deportation order dating back to 2005.

A judge has since reopened Figueroa-Zarceno's immigration case after finding that the initial order was given without proper notification, and a new hearing was scheduled for 2019, Nightingale said.

Eileen Hirst, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's department, said a warrant for Figueroa-Zarceno was found in a national criminal database when police ran his name through the system and the sheriff's department called ICE to confirm that warrant, as is routinely done with all warrants.

The department did not provide his location to immigration authorities during that call, she said.

Police Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in a statement that then-Police Chief Greg Suhr had informed Mayor Ed Lee that Figueroa-Zarceno "never should have been taken into custody by ICE agents after being released from Southern Police Station."

"It is the policy of the San Francisco Police Department to foster trust and cooperation with all people of the City and to encourage them to communicate with SFPD officers without fear of inquiry regarding their immigration status," the statement said.

John Coté, a spokesman for the office of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "San Francisco has strong policies in place to encourage victims and witnesses to report crimes without fear of being deported, which include our sanctuary ordinance. These policies are designed to foster respect and trust between law enforcement and residents to ensure our communities are safe. The City, including the Police Department, remain committed to them."

Coté said, "This proposed settlement is a fair resolution for all of the parties involved."

Lee said in 2016 that he'd spoken with officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about the case last week and was "pleased" that Figueroa-Zarceno had been released.

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