Sanctuary City Policy Finally Challenged In Court

When Kate Steinle was murdered by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco, the most troubling aspect of her death was that it could have been prevented.  The alleged murderer had been convicted of seven felonies, and deported five times.  He should not have been in the city at all.  Yet even with the public outrage over this irresponsible action by law enforcement, the San Francisco board voted to keep its sanctuary policy, setting up similar scenarios in the future. 

San Francisco not only voted to keep its sanctuary policy, a violation of the 1996 Immigration Act, but specifically rejected participating in the Obama Administration’s new Priority Enforcement Program, which was designed to encourage cooperation from counties across the U.S. with ICE and other Federal law enforcement authorities. 

This reflects the unbelievable attitude created by Democrat-run cities that they can pick and choose those who reside in their cities as long as those new residents vote for them and keep the wealthy teacher and other public unions employed.  It is a clear violation of Federal law done for profit and political power. 

But there may be a silver lining to this cloud of corruption.  These actions are so outrageous they have created an opening for a lawsuit.  And on December 4, 2015 a lawsuit, filed by a Los Angeles Law Firm and Judicial Watch, may have far reaching implications for all American cities.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of San Francisco City and County resident Cynthia Cerletti.  Cerletti’s lawsuit is based on California’s common law taxpayer standing doctrine and Code of Civil Procedure § 526a, which allow any citizen to sue government officials to prevent the unlawful expenditure of taxpayer funds.

At issue is the March 13, 2015 policy directive issued by Ross Mirkarimi, who was at the time the Sheriff of San Francisco City and County.  In this policy directive he stated “there shall be limited contact and communication with ICE representatives absent a court-issued warrant, a signed court order, or other legal requirement authorizing ICE access.”  The directive went on to mandate “SFSD -- San Francisco Sheriff Dept. -- staff shall not provide the following information or access to ICE representatives…citizenship/immigration status of any inmate.” 

This is a clear violation of Federal law, which states: “a Federal, State or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity of official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization service [now ICE] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any citizen.” 

The issue brought up in the Cerletti lawsuit is that the Sheriff was using taxpayer funds to violate Federal law.  And in California it is a violation of state statute to put taxpayer funds to illegal uses. 

The funds the City and County of San Francisco receive are substantial.  In Fiscal Year 2014-2015 the SFSD was appropriated about $190 million from the City and County general fund to finance its operations.  This will increase to $208 million in FY 2016-2017. 

What the Plaintiff Cynthia Cerletti is seeking is a Judgment in Superior Court that the Sheriff’s directive violates US Code and is illegal.  The lawsuit also asks for a permanent injunction prohibiting the Sheriff’s Dept. of San Francisco City and County from expending any taxpayer funds that implement, enforce, maintain, defend or other carry out the provisions of the March 13, 2015 directive.

However, Sheriff Mirkarami lost the election held last month to challenger former Chief Deputy Vicki Hennessy.  However, in a strange twist of events, the same day, November 3, that Sheriff Mirkarami lost his bid for re-election, primarily because of his stance on supporting San Francisco’s sanctuary status, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to preserve the city’s sanctuary status, clearly defying the will of the people. 

The Board of Supervisors also specifically rejected participating in Obama’s new Priority Enforcement Program, a program directed to rein in some of the sanctuary city’s abuses.  The PEP program will rely on fingerprint-based biometric data submitted during bookings by state and local law enforcement agencies.  This program was established on November 20, 2014 by an Executive Action issued by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. 

However, the Board of Supervisors rejected the program and refuses to cooperate with Federal authorities.  They will not submit fingerprint data on those they arrest.  This hinders ICE’s ability to arrest, detain, and deport individuals like Steinle’s alleged murderer. 

And on the same day, Democrats in the U.S. Senate filibustered a measure to crack down on sanctuary cities by stripping funding from communities such as San Francisco that refuse to cooperate with Federal immigration law.  This proves that illegal immigration is not created by businesses who want cheap labor but by Democrats who want residents in their cities and states.

Because the Judicial Watch lawsuit specifically cited Sheriff Mirkarami’s policy directive and he lost the election, there may be some issue of relevance in the lawsuit.  The new Sheriff, Vicki Hennessy has rescinded some of the directive.  But since the Board of Supervisors reaffirmed their commitment to keeping San Francisco as a sanctuary city there will be new opportunities for lawsuits.

The significance of the lawsuit submitted by Judicial Watch is that it provides a legal way to finally challenge scofflaw agencies that use taxpayer dollars to violate Federal and state law.  It will be interesting to see if SCOTUS, which may eventually review the case, will allow local law enforcement agencies in sanctuary cities throughout the nation to continue to hinder federal law and ICE’s efforts to keep Americans safe from illegal immigrants who commit felonies.  In short, the issue to be confronted is whether or not federal law means anything to communities like San Francisco.  This is a crucially important first battle to make officials accountable to Federal law.