San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Responds to 'Sanctuary City' Critics

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 (Michelle Gachet/KQED)

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee joins us to discuss a number of pressing issues facing the city: a housing shortage, growing inequity and allegations of police corruption. We'll also talk with him about the current controversy over San Francisco's "sanctuary city" policies, which are receiving national attention after the killing of a woman at Pier 14, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant.

Highlights from Mayor Ed Lee's Comments on the Sanctuary City

Mayor Ed Lee: We have a sanctuary city for the right reasons. I think it was misapplied here by a top law enforcement official. And we need to correct that. How can we really prevent this from happening? You know, the ordinary thing is to look at who had hands on this felon, this repeated serious felony-violator last. And I'm trying to understand the whole picture, from the feds to the local. But I do happen to agree with Senator Feinstein that you look at who had that last responsibility? It was our sheriff. And in that responsibility, you know, it's not about the sanctuary ordinance. The sanctuary ordinance has language in there that says very clearly that nothing shall prohibit communication or engagement of some notification. And when the feds released this person to us, there could have been a notification that we're about to release a repeat serious felony offender, who is not legally here. It's a phone call, Michael, and I think the Sheriff dropped the ball there.

Michael Krasny: You want to hear what the Sheriff had to say on this program yesterday? Let me get your response.

[Audio Clip of Sheriff Ross Mirkarim]): I read the statement by the Mayor, and I think it's essential to note that he signed the law that enabled our local law.

EL: Yeah, so is he reading the entire law? I mean -- here, I can read to you this passage from the exact 12H.2 of the ordinance that's called City Sanctuary Ordinance: "Nothing in this chapter shall prohibit or be construed as prohibiting a law enforcement officer from identifying and reporting any adult pursuant to state or federal law who is in custody after being booked for alleged commitment of a felony and suspected of violating the civil provisions of the immigration laws." In other words, it's not a detainer. I don't want to get into this legal mumbo jumbo that all of the immigration lawyers and advocates for sanctuary city are all discussing. This is not about the detainer debate that's going on; it is about simple notification.


MK: Actually you've got somebody like Matt Gonzales saying it's about guns. I mean, it may be about guns, too. It turns out that this gun was stolen from a federal agent. It was apparently in his car. But, let me go to at least one solution that's been put forward. State Senatory Jeff Stone from Riverside ? I?d like to get your response to what he's put forward here. He actually introduced legislation just yesterday. He's a Republican. But he says that, essentially, the legislation would require all California cities and counties to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, especially when criminals are in custody for drug offenses. Is this what we need to do?

EL: Well, you know, when you say the word, "cooperate," then there's going to be all kinds of interpretations of that. I think simple notification is within our current law. A top law enforcement official has a responsibility to weigh a balance with public safety and with the intent of the immigration sanctuary city ordinance. Here, I think it was a very simple thing to do. So, I want to keep this simple for the public that when you vote in public officials and the highest law enforcement officials, they have a duty to balance these things, and, you know, I think a simple phone call would have done the trick. But I also have to investigate to what happened with this ? these federal authorities to have released an individual who they deported form the country five times, allegedly. Why are they in our jurisdiction for a twenty-year-old event?

MK: They could have gotten a court order, too. I mean, the feds could have brought a court order in, right?

EL: Right. Well---

MK: -- So, I mean, there's a lot of finger pointing issues---

EL: There is, but I - and I'm gonna be working on trying to get this gap closed, especially on a notification--

MK: But that does not mean, to you, changing sanctuary city, or changing the status of the sanctuary city?

EL: Well, I'm going to be looking at ? I'll be talking with the federal authorities. I think Senator Feinstein suggested that this priority enforcement program that is being talked about. I should engage with him. I will do that to see what else we can do. I will follow up with that, and ? certainly on behalf of family ? I will do everything I can to make sure that there's no gap here.

MK: Well, Senator Feinstein wrote you a letter, and the letter said that Francisco Sanchez, quote, "should not have been released." And she urged the city to participate in the Department of Homeland Security's new priority enforcement program, which is aimed at deporting dangerous criminal aliens. How do you respond to that?

EL: I agree. The sanctuary city ordinance was never designed to harbor repeat serious offenders, and we've got to - if there's a gap there, or even a misunderstanding from our sheriff's office, let's close that gap.

MK: But in the wake of the Ramos case, there are many people who feel the sanctuary itself needs to be put under scrutiny. You put out a statement, a very thoughtful statement I might add, again, about your concern with the Steinle family and the tragedy, but really pointed out the assets to sanctuary. It helps people report crimes. It certainly, as you pointed out in your letter, protects residents regardless of their immigration status, and helps with respect to social services - all of these things. All of that notwithstanding, though ? and not again to get into the finger-pointing, maybe we just need to reevaluate the whole sanctuary notion.


EL: We do, and it's - again, we're dealing with the very practical situation of a repeat serious, violent, serious felony offender. We're not talking about innocent folks being swept up on an employment rate. So, I want the advocates to understand that we're providing our sanctuary city protection against that because it destroys a community's confidence in public safety. But we are talking about individuals who clearly are not the people that we want to protect from immigration authorities, because immigrant communities have told me time and time again they wanna be safe too. They deserve to be safe from repeat serious felony offenders. And this is what we're talking about. And we ought to be making sure we close that gap.