SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — San Francisco taxpayers could soon pay $190,000 in a lawsuit settlement with an undocumented immigrant who claimed he was reported to federal immigration authorities in violation of the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, the City Attorney’s office confirms to KPIX5.
The settlement is expected to be confirmed by San Francisco supervisors in future hearings.
Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno walked into the police station on December 2, 2015 to recover his stolen car.
When he left the station, he was immediately taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
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A document from federal immigration authorities released by his attorneys indicates that a San Francisco police officer directly contacted ICE and told them where to find Figueroa-Zarceno, the man’s attorneys and representatives said Wednesday.
The apparent incident, which led to the two-month detention of Figueroa-Zarceno, could be a violation of Sanctuary City policies placing limits on local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with immigration officials, according to his attorneys.
Figueroa-Zarceno, a native of El Salvador with a fiancee who is a U.S. citizen and an eight-year-old daughter, was released Wednesday.
Speaking through an interpreter, Figueroa-Zarceno said that once he was at the station he was detained and handcuffed, and told that police needed to ask him questions. No questions were asked, but after a few minutes he was released out a side door, where an ICE agent was waiting outside to detain him.
“I could hear my daughter screaming outside the van, Dad! Dad!” he said. “I could hear her telling them not to take her dad.”
The city approved a Sanctuary City policy in 1989 prohibiting city officials from enforcing immigration laws in most cases as a way to encourage immigrant communities to trust and cooperate with police.
A second 2013 ordinance, Due Process for All, prohibits San Francisco law enforcement from detaining people on behalf of immigration authorities for deportation unless they are wanted for a serious crime.
Figueroa-Zarceno’s attorneys said the ICE document released Friday indicates that the sheriff’s department contacted ICE on Dec. 2 stating that a “final order fugitive” had been contacted by San Francisco police.
At the same time, the document states, a San Francisco police officer contacted the ICE duty officer directly and told him Figueroa-Zarceno was at the police station. He was taken into custody by ICE around half an hour later.
ICE officials confirmed the detention but would not comment on the documents released Friday.
Zachary Nightingale, Figueroa-Zarceno’s attorney, said the document shows that while he served two days for a DUI in 2012, there were no criminal warrants for Figueroa-Zarceno in the system, only a civil deportation order dating back to 2005.
A judge has since reopened Figueroa-Zarceno’s immigration case after finding that the initial order was given without proper notification, and a new hearing is now scheduled for 2019, Nightingale said.
Eileen Hirst, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department, said a warrant for Figueroa-Zarceno was found in a national criminal database when police ran his name through the system, and the sheriff’s department called ICE to confirm that warrant, as is routinely done with all warrants.
The department did not provide his location to immigration authorities during that call, she said.
Police Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in a statement Friday that then-Police Chief Greg Suhr had informed Mayor Ed Lee that Figueroa-Zarceno “never should have been taken into custody by ICE agents after being released from Southern Police Station.”
“It is the policy of the San Francisco Police Department to foster trust and cooperation with all people of the City and to encourage them to communicate with SFPD officers without fear of inquiry regarding their immigration status,” the statement said.
The department is investigating and if any violations of policies and procedures are found, “there will be serious consequences,” the statement said.
John Coté, a spokesman for the Office of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, “San Francisco has strong policies in place to encourage victims and witnesses to report crimes without fear of being deported, which include our sanctuary ordinance. These policies are designed to foster respect and trust between law enforcement and residents to ensure our communities are safe. The City, including the Police Department, remain committed to them.”
Coté said, “This proposed settlement is a fair resolution for all of the parties involved.”
Mayor Lee said he’d spoken with officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about the case last week, and is “pleased” that Figueroa-Zarceno has been released.
Supervisor John Avalos said the incident was an illustration of how collaboration with immigration authorities can erode the trust between the community and local law enforcement.
It also highlighted the increased “politicization” of immigration during the election season, as seen in the national response last year to the fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant who had been released from custody a short time earlier.