SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey said Friday he will soon begin releasing undocumented immigrants held in county jail for low-level offenses even if federal immigration officials request that they be held as part of its controversial Secure Communities program.
When Hennessey made the announcement, the stage was set for another confrontation between the city and federal immigration officials.
KCBS' Barbara Taylor Reports:
Hennessey said ICE officials informed him it was not mandatory to comply with requests to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation if they were arrested on misdemeanor charges.
"Local law says you're not supposed to cooperate with ICE except where you're required to, so that's why I made the change," he said, referring to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that enforces immigration law.
The new policy takes effect June 1.
A spokeswoman for ICE, Virginia Kice, released a written statement calling the sheriff's decision unfortunate. She argued that ICE holds are an effective tool to ensure that individuals arrested for crimes are not released back into a community to commit more crimes.
Kice said, "The identification and removal of many criminal aliens
would not be possible without the cooperation of our state and local law enforcement partners."
She added, "ICE detainers are an effective tool to ensure that individuals arrested on criminal charges, who are also in violation of U.S. immigration law, are not released back into the community to potentially commit more crimes."
The city currently keeps low-level offenders ICE has identified as illegal immigrants through fingerprints until immigration officials collect them. The San Francisco Examiner reports that 111 inmates were detained for deportation between last June and February.
Hennessey said the policy change would not pose any danger to the public.
"These are pretty minor things to begin with—open container, minor trespass, driving without a license. There's not a lot of prosecutions that go on in these matters," he said, adding that other inmates arrested on such charges are routinely released.
Mayor Ed Lee said he was not apprised of the policy change prior to Hennessey's announcement, but supported the sheriff's decision.
"We don't want to spend local monies helping enforce immigration laws and that's still been the law of San Francisco," Lee said.
"Public safety is our concern and that's what I'd like to sit down and talk to him about as we review all of our policies about this."
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)
for more features.