Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at CNN Town Hall 1/28/2019.
Kamala Harris defends her record on criminal justice
02:17 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris this week mischaracterized a 2008 policy she supported that led to undocumented minors who were arrested for suspected felonies being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement before they had been convicted of crimes.

Speaking to an audience in Iowa Sunday on Political Party Live a podcast about Iowa politics, Harris was asked by host Misty Rebik about a CNN KFile report detailing Harris’ public support for a citywide policy enacted by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom of reporting juvenile undocumented immigrants arrested by local police to ICE. The decision revoked a previous policy of non-reporting.

In her answer, Harris called the reporting of arrested juvenile undocumented immigrants before they were convicted of a felony an “unintended consequence” of the policy that she did not support. However, this was in fact the intent of the policy.

“Could you kind of give us some insight on how, from that time, when for whatever reason you were supporting this policy that was essentially handing over undocumented people to ICE before they had been convicted to now – kind of what’s changed on that and how you came to those changes?” the questioner asked Harris.

Harris responded, “That ended up being an unintended consequence of the policy and I did not support that consequence of that policy. And that policy I believe has since changed because it was not the intended purpose of that policy. I’ll say this, and I feel very strongly about it, and I always have, which is this, my background is as a prosecutor and I want to know that a person, a victim of a rape or a child molestation, or a vicious violent crime, I want to know that that victim will be able to run in the middle of the street and wave down a police officer and receive protection and security without having to worry about if they do that they will be deported.”

San Francisco had 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.

Newsom changed this policy in 2008 after a 21-year-old undocumented man was arrested for murdering three members of a San Francisco family. The man had previously been arrested as a youth at 17 and was found guilty of attempted robbery and assault, but he was never reported to federal immigration authorities. After Newsom’s change, the city began reporting arrested undocumented juveniles to ICE who were suspected of committing a felony, regardless of whether they were actually found guilty of a crime.

Harris’ comments mischaracterized her history on the policy. Reporting arrested undocumented juveniles to ICE was not an “unintended consequence” of the policy, it was the policy. Newsom and Harris have both since said that they supported the policy as a measure to protect San Francisco’s overall status as a sanctuary city, but the policy itself was enacted as ordered by the mayor.

Newsom acknowledged during his successful run for governor of California in 2018 that the policy could have been handled differently.

“These were people charged … but not convicted. Some people ultimately were exonerated that got caught up in it,” he told The Sacramento Bee last year. “I’ll just say this to my critics: fair game. Looking back, there were things we could have done differently. I’m very honest about that.”

A Harris spokesman did not address the senator’s mischaracterizations when contacted by CNN’s KFile, but reiterated that the policy should have been handled differently.

“As Governor Newsom has said, the initial policy was intended to protect the sanctuary status of San Francisco, which Senator Harris has always supported and defended,” Harris spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement. “We have said this policy should have been done differently, but as Senator, Harris is focused on protecting Dreamers, fighting this president’s attempts to build a vanity project on the southern border, exercising more oversight of ICE, reforming our immigration system with a path to citizenship, and reuniting families separated by this administration. Those will be her priorities should she be elected president.”

Harris’ claim that the policy has since been changed “because it was not the intended purpose of that policy” is also inaccurate.

While Harris was correct that the policy has since been changed, it was the result of a change in administration. When Newsom left his position as mayor in 2011, his successor changed the city’s policy so that police would only report unaccompanied juvenile undocumented immigrants who were arrested to ICE; and again in 2013 when San Francisco passed another ordinance which prohibited reporting any arrested person to ICE except in limited circumstances.

There was an active push by the city’s Board of Supervisors when Harris and Newsom were in city office to change the policy to prohibit reporting juvenile undocumented immigrants to ICE unless they had been convicted of a felony. But those efforts were opposed by Harris and Newsom, with Harris saying in one speech she said the Board of Supervisors bill violated federal immigration law.

When the Board passed legislation changing the policy, Newsom vetoed that legislation. The Board overrode his veto, and passed the law without his signature. Newsom ultimately enforced his original policy despite the Board’s legislation.