SAN FRANCISCO -- Dr. Stephen B. Turner built a profitable business here by providing low-cost "immigrant medical exams," including immunizations and blood tests, to hundreds of newcomers to America. Many of his clients did not speak English, but they paid in cash, spending a total of nearly $250,000 at Turner's practice from 2003 to 2005.
It was only later, after a tip from a suspicious client, that the San Francisco police and the district attorney's office learned the truth: Turner had been throwing out his clients' blood samples and injecting them with "inoculations" of saline.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala D. Harris said the case, which led to a seven-year prison term for Turner, was one of many her office had been able to pursue under San Francisco's so-called sanctuary policy, which forbids police and city officials from asking people they encounter in the course of an investigation about their immigration status. It is a protection that Harris says has made immigrants - legal and illegal - more willing to come forward about crimes.
With immigration continuing to flare and frustrate as a national political issue, sanctuary cities like San Francisco may soon be the next battlefront. Critics argue that sanctuary policies discourage the police from enforcing laws, though about 50 cities and counties have enacted variations on sanctuary, according to the National Immigration Law Center. They include Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Washington. A handful of states have similar policies, including Alaska, Maine and Oregon.
Conservative legal groups and politicians have begun to challenge such policies. Yet on the other side, cities like Chicago have announced they will avoid involving police in issues of federal immigration enforcement. And while a federal proposal to punish sanctuary cities recently failed to become law, some states have passed laws discouraging sanctuary policies.
"To say to a law enforcement official, if you encounter a foreign national who is in this country illegally and you believe that information would be of use and benefit to federal authorities, that you can't call them, that's just wrong," said Rep. John Campbell, a California Republican who authored a provision in the federal Homeland Security bill that would have denied federal anti-terrorism money to cities with sanctuary policies. The provision passed the House, but was not part of the bill eventually signed by President Bush. But even with Democrats in control of Congress, immigration hard-liners say the issue is here to stay.
"It's mind-blowing for us to see taxpayer dollars spent to subsidize criminal activity - that's the end result," said Christopher J. Farrell, director of research for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group that is suing the Los Angeles Police Department over its sanctuary rule.