SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco lawmakers avoided having to bend the city’s sanctuary city policy after federal authorities backed off their demands for the law to be relaxed if they wanted help extraditing a rape suspect from Canada.
Mohamed Ben Azaza, 39, was arraigned Wednesday in San Francisco on charges including rape by use of drugs, sexual battery and rape of an unconscious person. He pleaded not guilty.
Homeland Security officials said last week that they would not extradite Azaza unless San Francisco relaxed its sanctuary city policy, which limits communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.
Azaza, who is from Tunisia, was sought on suspicion of raping an unconscious woman he drove from Daly City to San Francisco in 2017 while working as a rideshare driver.
San Francisco’s sanctuary city exemption applies only to people who have convictions. Azaza has no violent felony convictions. His attorney, Robert Beles, provided The Associated Press a copy of Azaza’s valid green card, which allowed him to live and work in the United States at the time of the alleged rape.
The district attorney’s office had sought approval from the Board of Supervisors to communicate with federal immigration officials if Azaza posted bail, was acquitted or if the district attorney couldn’t find probable cause to continue the prosecution, as requested by Homeland Security.
But at a meeting Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee told colleagues that the district attorney’s office “confirmed that this ordinance is no longer needed and asked us to table the item,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported .
Beles said his client was on his way to San Francisco to face the charges when he was detained in July in Montreal, where he remained in jail until his extradition.
“He was not fighting extradition. He got caught in a political crossfire and was stuck in a Canadian jail for months,” Beles told the AP.
“We’re looking into see if we can make a motion to either release Mohamed or somehow dismiss the case because his return to the U.S. was inhibited by the federal government,” he added.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Critics had argued that the Trump administration was trying to weaken sanctuary laws that advocates say are designed to make people living in the country illegally more likely to cooperate with local police without fear of deportation.
They said carving out an exception — even just for the single case — would be a bad precedent.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen had called the legislation only a “technical clarification” and not an exception when she and two colleagues on the rules committee voted for the proposal last week and sent it to the full board.
But on Tuesday, Ronen said she would push back against future federal demands.
“We will not play games with you, Mr. Trump, any more. And do not bring these ordinances to us any more, D.A.,” Ronen said. “I will refuse to consider a resolution like this ever again.”
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