A new poll has found that a majority of people in San Francisco support revoking sanctuary city protections for undocumented immigrants who are found guilty of dealing fentanyl.
Released by EMC Research on Tuesday, a survey of 500 likely voters found that 70% of San Franciscans either strongly support or somewhat support making undocumented people who are convicted of dealing fentanyl eligible for deportation.
The poll results come less than three months after the Board of Supervisors stymied a proposal from Supervisor Matt Dorsey to revoke the city’s protections for undocumented immigrants after they are convicted of dealing fentanyl as well as another serious felony.
The proposal sparked fierce backlash from people who argued that it targeted victims of human trafficking and people who are escaping violence in their home countries. Others contended that the legislation would do little to dissuade people from selling fentanyl, saying that drug enterprises can easily replace people who are deported.
Historically, San Francisco has rarely worked with federal authorities to deport people, focusing instead on fostering relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities.
Dorsey said he was surprised by the support from voters and he’s now considering taking the issue to the ballot unless his colleagues will work with him on his original proposal.
Dorsey said he isn’t sure how many people the policy would affect, but argued that there are already exemptions in the city’s sanctuary ordinance for other serious crimes such as murder, carjacking, arson and rape.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that the brazen drug-dealing and open drug scenes are robbing San Franciscans of the safe enjoyment of their neighborhoods,” Dorsey said.
The citizenship of fentanyl dealers became a flashpoint in the recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who sought different charges for people who were at risk of deportation. Boudin alleged that many people selling drugs on the streets of San Francisco were victims of human trafficking from Honduras.
Boudin’s successor, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, has vowed to take a tougher stance on drug crimes.
People continue to die of drug overdoses in San Francisco at a pace of 16 per week in 2023, according to preliminary data from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.
Francisco Ugarte, an immigration defense attorney at the Public Defender’s Office, said he was skeptical of the poll’s findings, pointing to a statewide poll from 2021 that found a majority of Californians supported ending crime-related deportations.
“Dorsey is irresponsibly whipping up hysteria and fear of immigrants,” Ugarte said. “Let's be honest about what solutions we need. [...] I’m highly skeptical of a poll that would suggest San Franciscans would undo sanctuary protections.”
Ruth Bernstein, president of EMC Research, said that the question was asked within a larger poll about unrelated issues. Bernstein wouldn’t elaborate on what other questions were asked in the poll, but said that the amount of support was notably high.
“We ask about all kinds of proposals all the time and 70% is pretty widespread,” Bernstein said. “It’s a significant amount of support.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to more precisely reflect the status of Dorsey's legislation.
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org