As district attorney of San Francisco, Kamala Harris supported a city policy that required law enforcement to turn over undocumented juvenile immigrants to federal immigration authorities if they were arrested and suspected of committing a felony, regardless of whether they were actually convicted of a crime.
Harris, who was San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011, sided with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in a political fight over San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city that split the city’s municipal government, with the mayor’s office supporting the policy and the city’s elected Board of Supervisors opposing it.
Harris’ past position could open her up to attacks from immigration activists as well as the more progressive wing of the party as she seeks the Democratic nomination in 2020. The fight over the San Francisco policy was covered extensively at the time, but Harris’ role has not been closely examined since she entered the national spotlight. KFile explored her position during a review of her record on immigration.
In a statement to CNN, Harris campaign spokesman Ian Sams said that the “policy was intended to protect the sanctuary status of San Francisco and to ensure local police, who needed to have strong relationships with the communities they serve regardless of immigration status, were not forced to operate as immigration agents, which is the responsibility of the federal government. Looking back, this policy could have been applied more fairly.”
Since winning election to the US Senate in 2016, Harris has established herself as an advocate for undocumented immigrants by pushing hard for a deal to protect from deportation those who came to the country as children, a group known as Dreamers. She has also called for the role of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be re-examined.
Still, her past position could prove a vulnerability in an increasingly crowded Democratic primary where candidates have been highly critical of President Donald Trump’s policies on immigration and abolishing ICE has become a popular position among the party’s base.
At issue in 2008 was Newsom’s policy of reporting juvenile undocumented immigrants arrested by local police to ICE. As district attorney for San Francisco, Harris was responsible prosecuting crimes in the city.
San Francisco has been a sanctuary city since 1989, meaning that police were not obligated to give any information to federal immigration authorities about interactions with undocumented residents of the city. The city’s policy was amended in 1992 to remove protections for criminal adult suspects, but the protection remained for arrested juveniles.