District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is asking to bypass San Francisco’s sanctuary city rules to prosecute two Mexican nationals who allegedly fled the country to avoid standing trial in their respective murder and child rape cases.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently told Jenkins that it found the fugitives hiding in Mexico, the DA told The Standard in an exclusive interview. But Jenkins said federal officials are unwilling to send the men to San Francisco unless her office—and the sheriff—agree to notify DHS if the suspects are ever released from custody.
The problem for Jenkins is that San Francisco typically prohibits local law enforcement from helping federal immigration authorities deport someone getting out of jail. So the DA and Mayor London Breed are asking the Board of Supervisors to make exceptions for these two specific cases.
“We should not have San Francisco become a place where people are allowed to rape children and murder women, and then—so long as they’re able to avoid prosecution by fleeing the U.S.—they get away with it,” Jenkins said. “And so I’m trying to do my level best to still respect and support our sanctuary city policies while still being able to do my job.”
The DA’s requests will likely reignite a hot-button issue.
San Francisco’s sanctuary policies are meant to protect undocumented immigrants from facing undue punishment and to encourage them to report crimes to the police without fear of deportation. The policies have also drawn national attention from Republicans railing against the perceived dangers of undocumented immigration.
During his rise to power, Donald Trump seized on the 2015 killing of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant released from a San Francisco jail.
Jenkins’ requests this week aren’t the first time a San Francisco DA has asked for a carve-out.
In 2019, then-District Attorney George Gascón asked supervisors if the city could comply with a similar DHS request so his office could prosecute an alleged rapist who fled the country.
The request raised concerns at the time that the Trump administration was playing politics to water down San Francisco’s protections for immigrants. But federal officials reportedly sent the suspect back to San Francisco before the supervisors had a chance to vote on it.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen pledged back in 2019 to never consider such a request again. And on Monday, she vowed to vote against the one made by Breed on behalf of Jenkins.
“What the mayor and DA are doing is weak,” Ronen told The Standard. “They are not standing up for our sanctuary ordinance and are being almost extorted by the federal government.”
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the mayor supports San Francisco’s sanctuary status, a spokesperson for Breed said the ordinance “was not put in place to shield people who commit heinous crimes from being prosecuted here.”
A statement from Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said his office supports sanctuary city exceptions that “ensure accountability and safety.”
Jenkins is not identifying the suspects in her requests to the Board of Supervisors because they have not been arrested.
The defendant in one of the two cases allegedly killed his ex-wife in 2009 and, according to Jenkins, left “their children behind without a mom.”
In the other case, prosecutors say the defendant sexually abused two young girls under the age of 10. A warrant was issued for his arrest in 2021.
Each man would face up to life in prison if convicted.
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said he would reluctantly support the requested sanctuary exemptions because the alleged crimes were heinous.
“I don’t want to weaken our sanctuary city laws, but this does seem to be an extraordinary case that calls for an extraordinary remedy,” he said.
But Peskin questioned why the federal government could not simply send the men to San Francisco without the city granting the exceptions.
Ronen also criticized DHS for pressuring San Francisco into what will likely be a highly controversial process instead of simply extraditing the men.
If a politically charged debate tips them off to their pending arrests she fears the men could run free.
“The feds are acting so irresponsible,” Ronen said. “They could lose these individuals because of the games they are playing.”
Michael Barba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org