October 2, 2013 / 3:19 AM / 6 years ago

San Francisco passes law to prohibit immigrant holds

(Reuters) - San Francisco officials on Tuesday moved to curb their partnership with U.S. immigration authorities, by ending a practice that facilitates deportations by extending the detention of illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors action, which would exclude certain violent offenders, represents the latest pushback by state and local officials in California against the federal government over immigration enforcement.

The board voted unanimously to pass an ordinance to prevent the San Francisco police and sheriff’s departments from detaining illegal immigrants arrested for crimes for up to 48 hours past their release dates. The extra time helps immigration agents take custody of detainees for possible deportation.

The federal government in 2008 launched the so-called Secure Communities partnership between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement to facilitate the deportation of illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.

It has drawn criticism from immigrant rights groups who say too many non-violent immigrants are being caught in the system, getting deported and being cut off from family.

“This legislation has passed and people do not have to fear immigration customs enforcement as much as they have,” said San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who proposed the bill.

Avalos and other critics of Secure Communities say the program deters domestic violence victims and witnesses of crimes from coming forward for fear of triggering the involvement of immigration authorities.

The law is set to take effect 30 days from when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signs it, which could take up to 10 days. He cannot veto it because the board’s vote was unanimous.

The measure mirrors similar bans by a handful of jurisdiction including Los Angeles, where Police Chief Charlie Beck last year said his office would no longer grant detainer requests under Secure Communities without first reviewing the seriousness of the offense for which a suspected illegal immigrant was held.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca took a similar position in December 2012.

That came a day after a declaration by California Attorney General Kamala Harris that Secure Communities was not mandatory, but a voluntary program for local agencies in the state.

Critics of the San Francisco ordinance approved on Tuesday included the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association and police Chief Greg Suhr.

Suhr recently urged the San Francisco supervisors to amend the law, which was first proposed to apply to all detainees, to give law enforcement officials the discretion to detain immigrants for extended periods when they are accused of what he called “serious crimes.”

Suhr did not speak at Tuesday’s meeting and was not immediately available for comment.

A representative for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not be reached for comment.

Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Stacey Joyce

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