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San Francisco sanctuary issue over rape suspect defused

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – San Francisco lawmakers Tuesday avoided having to bend the city’s sanctuary city policy to have a rape suspect extradited after federal authorities backed off their demands and the man was sent back from Canada.

Mohamed Ben Azaza, 39, was booked into jail shortly before 1 a.m. Monday, according to a Sheriff’s Department website.

At Tuesday’s meeting, 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.

Azaza, who is from Tunisia, was sought for allegedly raping an unconscious woman he drove from Daly City to San Francisco in 2017 while working as a rideshare driver, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

Azaza fled to Canada after a warrant for his arrest was issued in June and was detained in Montreal.

He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on charges of rape by use of drugs, sexual battery and rape of an unconscious person. It was unclear whether he had an attorney.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said it wouldn’t work to extradite Azaza unless local law enforcement notified federal immigration officials if Azaza posted bail, was acquitted or if there wasn’t enough evidence to try him.

That could have violated city sanctuary laws that generally prohibit communication between employees and the federal government regarding a person’s immigration status. There are strict rules on when cooperation is allowed.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment late Tuesday, the Chronicle said.

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.,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said. “I will refuse to consider a resolution like this ever again.”

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