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“That puts a lot of people at risk,” she said. “That’s why there’s such uproar over this program.”

Sheriff Hennessey said he learned that keeping immigrants with ICE detainers behind bars is a courtesy and not mandatory after meeting with Secure Communities director David Venturella late last year.

Sheriff Hennessey’s move is drawing some sharp criticism.

“The borders will never be secure as long as places like San Francisco lay out the welcome mat,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group that is suing the city over similar immigration issues.

“These policies put illegal immigrants above the law,” Mr. Fitton said.