City Attorney May Seek Court Ruling on Legality of New Sanctuary Policy

City Attorney Dennis Herrera indicated today that he might seek a ruling from a federal court assuring the legality of San Francisco's newly minted sanctuary policy, shortly after supervisors voted to override Mayor Gavin Newsom's veto of the law. The new city policy establishes a more permissive approach to undocumented youths who are arrested.

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Dennis Herrera, man in the middle
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In a letter to U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, posted on the city attorney's Web site, Herrera asks that Russoniello "provide an assurance that if the City proceeds to implement this Amendment... City law enforcement officers and employees will not be prosecuted for violating federal criminal laws." The city law revises the sanctuary ordinance so undocumented juveniles would only be reported to federal immigration authorities if convicted of a crime -- not after they are arrested, which is the current city policy.

Herrera's letter goes on to state that if the U.S. Attorney's office does not provide "an adequate assurance" of city employees' freedom from criminal liability under the new sanctuary policy, the city might file for declaratory relief in federal court -- essentially asking a judge to decide the matter.

The letter is the latest move in Herrera's balancing act on the revised sanctuary policy. While the city attorney's office has tried to remain neutral in the debate over the legislation, the mayor's office has leaned on past questions raised by the city attorney about enforcement of the ordinance to support its opposition to the bill.

But Herrera's indication that he would appeal to a federal judge in the event of Russoniello's refusal to promise that no city officials will be prosecuted -- in light of Russoniello's past criticism of the ordinance, such a refusal is likely -- could also be seen as a nod to those who supported the legislation's softer stance toward immigrants.

To read the full letter, click here.

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