San Francisco lawmakers vote to uphold sanctuary city policy

By Curtis Skinner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Lawmakers in San Francisco voted to uphold the "sanctuary city" policy on Tuesday, almost a year after San Francisco was flung into a national debate about immigration after an undocumented immigrant was charged in the fatal shooting of a woman.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation that upholds the city's policy on limiting law enforcement from providing assistance to federal immigration authorities aiming to apprehend or deport individuals.

The ordinance exempts from protection individuals who are currently being held on suspicion of committing a felony and were either convicted of a violent felony in the past seven years or convicted of a "serious" felony or have three separate convictions of most any felony in the past five years.

The FREE SF Coalition, a collection of immigrant and minority activist and legal aid groups, called the ordinance "an important step forward for San Francisco's immigrant communities."

San Francisco is one of dozens of U.S. cities with sanctuary policies, which were rooted in shielding Central and Southern American refugees from deportation in the 1980s.

The decades-old policy came under fire last year after Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant, was charged with murder in the apparently random shooting of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle as she walked along a popular pier with her father in early July. Sanchez has pleaded not guilty.

Former San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's department had released Lopez-Sanchez from jail in April 2015 after a drug charge, despite a request from federal officials that he be held until they could pick him up.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump had seized on the shooting to say that it highlighted the country's problems with illegal immigration. When announcing his plans to seek the Republican nomination for president last June, Trump described immigrants from Mexico to the United States as drug-runners and rapists.

A second vote on the city's ordinance is scheduled to be held to affirm the policy next Tuesday. Mayor Ed Lee, who has previously supported the policy, will have 10 days to act on the ordinance if it passes next week.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Leslie Adler)