Disgraceful Sanctuary Laws
by Quentin Kopp
The Sad Result of an Irresponsible Prosecution
Henry Ward Beecher in an 1882 sermon declared: “Any law that takes hold of a man’s
daily life cannot prevail in a community, unless the vast majority of the community are
actively in favor of it. The laws that are the most operative are the laws which
I’m not sure if most San Francisco residents support, much less understand, the so-called
“sanctuary” law enacted by San Francisco supervisors and mayors since December,
1985. It took the form of a resolution asking then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein to declare San
Francisco “to be a city of refuge.” It recited the Geneva Convention, ratified by the
United States in 1956, and the Refuge Act of 1980, referred to an estimated 100,000
Central American refugees in San Francisco and proclaimed that “city departments …
shall not jeopardize the safety and welfare of law-abiding refugees by acting in a way
that may cause their deportation” (emphasis added).
Only three supervisors voted against the resolution, namely, then-supervisors Bill Maher,
Wendy Nelder and me.
By Oct. 24, 1989, I was a state senator and the SF Board of Supervisors, including Maher
and Nelder, unanimously enacted an ordinance affirming San Francisco as “a city and
county of refuge.” That law prohibited any city department or employee from assisting in
enforcement of federal immigration law or revealing information about the immigration
status of anyone “in the city and county of San Francisco, unless such assistance
is required by federal or state statute, regulation or court decision.”
It barred cooperation with any Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
“investigation, detention or arrest procedures … relating to alleged violation of federal
In 1992 and 1993, then-Mayor Frank Jordan approved additional ordinances which,
among other things, reiterated the “serious concerns” of the Board of Supervisors and
him about coordination between San Francisco and INS employees.
In 2009, another ordinance, aimed at the immigration status of a juvenile convicted of a
felony as an adult in Superior Court, was enacted, stating, “… no officer, employee or law
enforcement agency of (San Francisco) shall stop, question, arrest or detain any
individual solely because of the individual’s immigration status.”
Then, SF Mayor Edwin Lee signed an ordinance stopping San Francisco police officers
from detaining any illegal alien on the basis of a federal immigration detainer once the
illegal alien becomes eligible for release from custody, except for an illegal alien
convicted of a violent felony within the previous seven years who is currently charged
with a violent felony and poses a public safety risk.
That’s the legal background of the injustice of the acquittal last month of the five-times
deported illegal alien charged with murdering Kate Steinle in July, 2015.
The defendant was effectively represented by Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s chief deputy,
Matt Gonzales. Gonzales is one of the most capable, experienced criminal defense
attorneys in California, with participation in multiple murder trials. He was opposed by
a deputy prosecutor without comparable experience and who serves at the
will of the elected district attorney, George Gascon.
Gascon’s law enforcement experience emanates from tenure as a police officer in
Arizona and Los Angeles, then as San Francisco’s chief of police, before his curious
appointment by Mayor Lee as district attorney after the then-incumbent was elected
California Attorney General in 2010.
Gascon, a member of the State Bar of California, has never tried any criminal case, or
even a civil case, in his life. That’s why he’s constantly outmatched by Adachi and his
competent deputies, including Gonzales, no matter your views about public defenders.
The State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit statements to media during a trial.
The Code of Judicial Ethics, likewise, bars public comment to the media and public. The
rationale is simple: prevention of jury consideration of media comments outside trial by
competing attorneys. Yet, with Gonzales listening the trial judge commented to the media
after adjournment several times. Gonzales then made claims about trial evidence
almost every day during the trial.
Steinle’s alleged killer wouldn’t have been in San Francisco but for San Francisco’s
“sanctuary” law and its implementation by former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. Not once did
Gascon’s prosecuting deputy seek a court order preventing such running commentary.
Trial Judge Samuel Feng is empowered by law to impose such silence upon attorneys on
his own initiative, but he didn’t do that or obey rules. Thus, San Francisco has been
rightfully tagged as a city with disgraceful laws that treat federal immigration
departments as untrustworthy enemies, allowing justice to be thwarted.
Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor and state senator, retired judge and
current member of the SF Ethics Commission.