Presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris is running to lead a party increasingly intolerant of President Donald Trump’s bigoted anti-immigration policies. But while serving as San Fransisco’s district attorney a decade ago, according to a new investigative report from CNN, Harris actively supported her city’s policy of turning over some undocumented teenagers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents—even if they hadn’t been convicted of a crime.
While San Francisco had been a self-declared sanctuary city since the late 1980s, Harris came out publicly to support then-mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2008 policy in which undocumented minors would be handed over from police to ICE if they were arrested—even if those arrests never resulted in a conviction.
“[San Francisco’s sanctuary status] was never intended to shield anyone from being held accountable for a crime,” Harris said at the time. “It’s intended to encourage immigrant victims and witnesses to report crimes without fear of reprisal so we can hold offenders accountable.”
After just one year in place, according to CNN, the policy resulted in over 100 undocumented minors being turned over to ICE for deportation—some for arrests as minor as showing off a BB gun to a friend, or getting into a fight and stealing 46 cents. A year after the policy went into effect, the city’s board of supervisors passed a law which allowed police to hand over minors only if the juvenile in question had been convicted of a felony. Newsom—with Harris’ support—vetoed the new rule, but his veto was overturned.
Newsom was inaugurated as governor last month. During the campaign, Newsom said he was wrong to champion the policy and called for “fundamental reforms to ICE.”
Harris has since defended her position by arguing that she was simply working within the confines of the law, telling an audience at Stanford University in 2009 that:
I think that [the board of supervisors’ ruling] would be in conflict with federal law, and we have to follow the law. We have to follow that law. You may not agree with it, but you know, that’s why we have a process where you can challenge laws. And it is the law.
This, however, gets to the heart of why so many on the left have been frustrated with Harris and her run for the White House—one which has brought her past as a hard-nosed prosecutor into direct conflict with a progressive base for whom cooperation with ICE is seen as anathema. Harris has already struggled to reconcile her “good cop” persona with a growing wing of the party leftists who see—among other things—abolishing ICE as an attainable goal, not just an aspirational slogan.
In a statement to CNN, Harris campaign spokesperson Ian Sams said the 2008 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.”
But, Sams added, “looking back, this policy could have been applied more fairly, as the governor has stated as well.”