San Francisco DA Degrades Immigration Enforcement

Chesa Boudin and the fentanyl epidemic in the City by the Bay

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 7, 2022

In a feature published on May 17, the San Francisco Standard revealed that the city’s District Attorney (DA) Chesa Boudin (D) failed to secure any convictions for dealing the uniquely deadly drug fentanyl in 2021, despite the fact that the City by the Bay “is grappling with an increasingly deadly drug overdose epidemic” driven largely by the narcotic. I would say that decline in prosecutions wasn’t for a want of trying, except that the DA isn’t trying — in part because Boudin doesn’t want alien drug traffickers to pay the price for their illicit business.

Fentanyl Deaths in San Francisco. As noted, fentanyl is uniquely deadly — two milligrams can kill you (depending on your body weight and tolerance). Worse, as the DEA explains, fentanyl is being mixed with other illicit drugs to increase their potency. Drug users may thus be gambling with the opioid and not even know it.

A bipartisan panel of experts recently examined the problem and determined that Mexico is the main source of fentanyl and its analogues today, a change from the past when the drug was primarily mailed into the United States from China.

Not surprisingly, the panel concluded, cartels and transnational criminal organizations are the ones who are smuggling the drug from Mexico to the United States.

Fentanyl has taken its toll on San Francisco. According to the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, in calendar year 2021 there were 641 accidental overdose deaths in San Francisco, nearly three-quarters of which (74 percent or 477 deaths) were attributable in whole or in part to fentanyl.

While about half of those deaths were in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Inner Mission neighborhoods (where open-air drug use and homelessness are common), some 17 percent occurred in upper-scale Nob Hill. One-quarter of the deaths involved the homeless, but 71 percent were of persons with known addresses, while in 4 percent it was unknown whether the victims had fixed addresses.

Those deaths were also disproportionately concentrated among African-Americans, who make up 5.21 percent of the population of San Francisco, but accounted for 28 percent of accidental drug overdose deaths.

Chesa Boudin. Boudin took office in January 2020, following a stint in the public defender’s office where he “helped launch the first-ever immigration unit”. The Heritage Foundation has described him as “one of several dozen rogue prosecutors elected to public office, thanks in most part to [George] Soros (or his political action committees or wealthy liberal friends)”.

I guess you get what you pay for, because as my colleague Dan Cadman explained just over a month into the new DA’s tenure:

Boudin's most recent "Eureka!" moment has been to open a unit within his district attorney's office, which serves as the prosecutor for the entire city and county of San Francisco, whose twofold focus will be on 1) "protecting" deportable aliens from the reach of ICE; and 2) "investigating" ICE agents who go about doing their job of finding the alien criminals released by San Francisco police and sheriff's departments in defiance of federal immigration laws.

In a September 2021 post examining a proposed and massive amnesty in a Senate reconciliation bill (which could have been passed without Republican votes), I noted that a version of the legislation then being floated by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) had been written in a way to provide “plenty of outs for alien criminals”.

One would have allowed “tens of thousands of criminal aliens to go back to court — long after they have been convicted and served their time — and have their crimes re-categorized or their convictions expunged entirely” to avoid the immigration consequences of their actions.

As I explained at the time: “Can you seriously see [Boudin’s] office not joining in on every motion to amend and expunge every conviction — regardless of the crime — that would bar an amnesty applicant from benefits?” Little did I know that the DA was skipping that step and simply not charging aliens with drug-dealing crimes to begin with.

Fentanyl Prosecutions Plummet — to Zero. The Standard reported that it had reviewed case information from San Francisco Superior Court, which showed Boudin’s office had “secured just three total convictions for ‘possession with intent to sell’ drugs in 2021: two for methamphetamine and one for a case including heroin and cocaine”, even though fentanyl is plainly a problem (and the major factor in overdose deaths) in the city.

The outlet contrasted that record with the convictions secured by Boudin’s predecessor as San Francisco DA, George Gascón (the current DA of Los Angeles County, Calif.), who “oversaw over 90 drug-dealing convictions by the DA’s Office in 2018”.

The tale told by The Standard gets more interesting yet, because as the outlet explains:

Boudin’s office is still obtaining convictions in fentanyl drug sales cases, but the actual convictions are not for the crime of drug dealing. About 80% of the cases in a type of charge category that included fentanyl dealing — 44 in total — involved a defendant ultimately pleading guilty to a crime called “accessory after the fact,” meaning the accused was convicted of helping another person commit a crime. In a handful of cases, people arrested on multiple charges including fentanyl dealing end up being convicted of other serious felonies.

Some of these reclassifications of drug-dealing offenses had to do with Boudin’s emphasis on so-called “diversion programs”, in part driven by his interest in reducing rates of incarceration for “lower-level crimes”, as well as an attempt to keep jail populations low during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Immigration Status a Factor. “Another big factor” as the Standard describes it, however, “is the DA’s attention to offenders’ immigration status”. Possession with intent to sell under California Health and Safety Code § 11351 is an aggravated felony, subjecting an alien to removability and which will be a bar to most forms of immigration relief.

That’s a big issue because, according to The Standard, “a substantial number of drug dealers in the city are Honduran nationals.”

I note that California Penal Code § 1016.3(b) requires prosecutors “in the interests of justice” to “consider the avoidance of adverse immigration consequences in the plea negotiation process as one factor in an effort to reach a just resolution.”

Given the fact that immigration is a strictly federal issue, that provision of California law is already an overreach, but even then, the immigration consequences of a drug dealing conviction are simply “one factor” for the local DA to consider.

The fact that hundreds of people in San Francisco are dying of fentanyl overdoses, on the other hand, would seem to overcome the adverse immigration consequences of a drug trafficking offense, except in truly minor cases. Further, given the racial disparity in overdose deaths in San Francisco, a “progressive” prosecutor like Boudin should logically be more interested in getting drug dealers off the street.

As an aside, I note that the Standard opines that those Honduran traffickers “could face deadly consequences if deported”, but I have no idea how they came to that conclusion.

Nothing in the State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Honduras even implies deported drug dealers from the United States are singled out for abuse (though it does state that “Organized criminal groups, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes” there), and as I have previously explained, the homicide rate in Honduras is much lower than in my erstwhile hometown of Baltimore.

Boudin Recall. Boudin is facing a recall election today (June 7) and has his hands full keeping his job (the DA is being outspent two-to-one). As CBS News reports, proponents of the recall effort claim that Boudin “isn't prosecuting criminals aggressively and say his approach to executing progressive policies is putting the safety of residents at risk.” The fact that his office had no prosecutions for fentanyl trafficking in 2021 during an overdose epidemic would certainly prove that point.

Should Boudin be recalled, Mayor London Breed (D) would appoint his replacement. Breed is no conservative, but her patience with the increase in crime is wearing thin and she has vowed that the city will be “more aggressive with law enforcement”. San Francisco could hardly be less aggressive, which is likely why homicides, gun violence, and aggravated assaults were all up in 2021 compared to 2020.

Implications of Boudin’s Policies While some describe U.S. immigration laws as “harsh”, they are actually quite sensible. Aliens in the United States are guests in this country and are expected to comply with our laws in much the same way that I am expected to toe the line when I am the alien, abroad.

The grounds of inadmissibility are intended to screen out criminals (which is part of the reason why certain “experts” can claim aliens commit fewer crimes than the native born), and the grounds of deportability are meant to protect the American people (both citizens and lawful immigrants) from the predations of criminal aliens.

Although the immigration laws are federal, most crimes are prosecuted at the state and local level. Thus, DHS is dependent on DAs obtaining convictions to start the removal process. In states like California, where the legislature has directed local prosecutors to consider immigration implications in agreeing to plea deals, that federal immigration system starts to break down. Where local DAs go out of their way to charge serious criminal aliens with lesser offenses, the system comes to a halt.

Not only does that endanger the local communities our immigration laws are intended to protect, but it also leads to two systems of justice in which, perversely, citizens (including naturalized ones) are treated more harshly than aliens.

I suppose Boudin could claim he is eliminating the inequalities in a justice system where aliens get better treatment than citizens by ignoring crimes committed by everybody. That does not make anyone other than the criminals any safer, however, as San Francisco’s fentanyl overdose rate reveals.