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'ICE is testing our defenses': San Francisco sheriff apologizes after deputies mistakenly allowed federal agents to interview two suspected illegal immigrants, breaching state sanctuary law

  • Last week, ICE agents gained access to two inmates in local San Francisco jails
  • ICE is reportedly seeking to detain one of the inmates, an alleged illegal alien
  • State law forbids local cops from giving ICE access to inmates without consent
  • San Francisco County Sheriff Vicki Hennessy apologized on Monday 
  • 'I've taken steps to make sure it never happens again,' Hennessy said
  • Trump administration is suing California over its state sanctuary laws 

Federal immigration authorities are 'testing the defenses' and looking for 'weak points' of California law enforcement in an effort to combat its state sanctuary laws,  according to San Francisco's sheriff.

Vicki Hennessy, the San Francisco County sheriff, acknowledged on Monday that her department violated California sanctuary law by allowing federal immigration agents to interview two jailed detainees.

San Francisco Sheriff's Department officials confirmed on Monday that two officers working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were permitted to interview two inmates in separate local jails this past Thursday.

One inmate refused to speak with the ICE agents, while the other inmate agreed to be interviewed, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The inmate who spoke to ICE was told that after his release from jail, federal agents wish to detain him.

The identities of the inmates have not been released to the public.

The San Francisco County sheriff, Vicki Hennessy, has acknowledged that her department violated California sanctuary law by allowing federal immigration agents to interview jailed detainees. Hennessy is seen above in her office in November 2016

The San Francisco County sheriff, Vicki Hennessy, has acknowledged that her department violated California sanctuary law by allowing federal immigration agents to interview jailed detainees. Hennessy is seen above in her office in November 2016

According to state law in California, local authorities are not allowed to inquire about an arrestee's immigration status nor are they allowed to report the status to federal authorities.

San Francisco County is thus not permitted to turn over any inmate to ICE.

State officials say that the sanctuary laws are in place in order to encourage undocumented migrants to come forward and cooperate with local law enforcement without fear that their immigration status will lead to them being deported.

Sheriff Hennessy told the Chronicle on Monday that allowing ICE agents into county jails to interview inmates was a violation of local and state law.

In September 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed into law the TRUTH Act, which requires local law enforcement agencies to provide detainees sought by ICE with a consent form that would explain the purpose of an interview.

The law also allows detainees to decline an interview with ICE. Should detainees agree to an interview, they are also allowed to have a lawyer present.

Hennessy said ICE was apparently 'testing our defenses and they found some weak points.'

In the last week, ICE agents have rounded up over 230 suspected undocumented migrants in the Northern California area. The above file photo shows ICE agents detaining a suspected illegal immigrant in Los Angeles in February 2017

In the last week, ICE agents have rounded up over 230 suspected undocumented migrants in the Northern California area. The above file photo shows ICE agents detaining a suspected illegal immigrant in Los Angeles in February 2017

'My staff made a mistake and I have to hold myself accountable,' she said.

'I apologize on behalf of the department. I feel embarrassed by it. I've taken steps to make sure it never happens again.'

In the last week, ICE agents have rounded up over 230 suspected undocumented migrants in the Northern California area.

Hennessy said that ICE officers returned to a San Francisco jail on Monday and asked to interview an inmate. That request was denied.

The sheriff said 'that's a good sign' that department officials are implementing state law.

In 2016, ICE asked local law enforcement in San Francisco to turn over 99 undocumented migrants. Last year, ICE made 469 requests. So far this year, it has made 212 requests.

None of the requests have been honored, according to the Chronicle.

California and the Trump administration are locked in a legal and political dispute over the state's sanctuary laws, which run counter to White House aims to crack down on illegal immigration.

Brown on Wednesday accused the administration of declaring war on the most populous US state, after the Justice Department sued to stop policies that protect illegal immigrants against deportation.

The Democratic governor's accusations on Wednesday against Attorney General Jeff Sessions intensified the Republican administration's confrontation with California.

In a speech in the state capital, Sessions accused California of obstructing federal immigration enforcement efforts and vowed to stop the state's defiance.

California Governor Jerry Brown
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

California and the Trump administration are locked in a legal dispute over the state's sanctuary laws, which run counter to White House aims to severely crack down on illegal immigration. Governor Jerry Brown (left) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (right) are seen above

Sessions addressed a law enforcement group in Sacramento, a day after the Justice Department filed suit against California, Brown and the state's Democratic attorney general over so-called sanctuary policies that shield illegal immigrants.

'California absolutely, it appears to me, is using every power it has – powers it doesn't have – to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I'm going to use every power I have to stop them,' Sessions, the top US law enforcement officer, said in his speech.

Brown called the attorney general's trip to California a political stunt and his description of California's laws a lie.

'Like so many in the Trump administration, this attorney general has no regard for the truth,' Brown told reporters, adding that the laws were crafted with input and support from California police chiefs.

'This is basically going to war against the state of California.' 

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