The Kathryn Steinle murder case in San Francisco is a tragic but textbook example of the public-safety problems that are created when local governments obstruct immigration enforcement by adopting so-called sanctuary policies. The man who has admitted killing Steinle, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is an illegal alien who has been deported five times and racked up seven felony convictions. ICE had started the deportation process, but San Francisco asked for custody of Sanchez to pursue prior drug charges. These were dropped, and in early April, instead of turning him back over to ICE for deportation, the San Francisco sheriff’s department released Sanchez, in keeping with the city’s longstanding sanctuary policies, without notification to ICE. Less than three months later, Sanchez shot and killed Kathryn Steinle.
This tragedy was not an isolated incident; sanctuary policies are one of the most serious challenges facing ICE. More than 300 jurisdictions now refuse to turn over criminal aliens to ICE.
Of the 8,100 aliens who were released to the streets instead of to ICE, approximately 1,900 were later arrested, a total of 4,300 more times, on 7,500 different charges. The most common subsequent charge was dangerous drugs, followed by DUI.
The release of these offenders has created needless victims, and the blame falls squarely on the local law-enforcement agencies who released the offenders instead of turning them over to ICE. San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has shamelessly defended his actions, saying there was “no legal basis” for him to hold Sanchez and insisting that ICE should have produced a court order or warrant (neither of which is required under the law).
The release of these offenders has created needless victims, and the blame falls squarely on the local law-enforcement agencies who released the offenders instead of turning them over to ICE.
Nonsense. While ICE’s use of detainers has become controversial because of recent Obama-administration policy changes that opened the door to litigation, in this case, Sanchez’s identity and deportability were not in doubt, and the ICE detainer provides the probable cause to justify keeping someone like him in custody. The Obama administration has so severely restricted enforcement operations that anyone actually targeted by ICE is definitely going to be a serious criminal and/or an egregious immigration violator, so these are among the worst of the worst of criminal aliens who are getting released.
Deputy officers within the San Francisco department were so concerned about the release of illegal-alien criminals that they started contacting ICE on the sly. According to a local news report, Mirkarimi got wind of this in March, about the time that Sanchez was in custody, and promptly blasted out a memo stating that only he could deal with ICE.
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San Francisco mayor Edwin Lee, no sanctuary foe, is among those now distancing himself from Mirkarimi’s policies, correctly noting that the sheriff had the authority to hold Sanchez for ICE. He has called for a review, saying that the city’s policy “is not intended to protect repeat, serious and violent felons.”
Every sheriff in the country, and every state and local lawmaker in every place that has toyed with sanctuary policies, ought to be looking at the Steinle case and then into the mirror to consider if such an event could happen on their watch. If so, their next phone call should be to their local ICE field office, to work out an arrangement to minimize the likelihood.
Despite the claims of anti-enforcement advocacy groups, a close cooperative relationship with ICE will not damage community policing efforts or cause immigrants to stop reporting crimes. This so-called “chilling effect” on immigrant crime reporting is unsubstantiated in crime statistics, social-science research, and real-life experience.
One solution is for state governments to pass legislation or issue legal opinions clarifying that law-enforcement agencies are authorized and expected to comply with ICE detainers or make other arrangements with ICE for the transfer of inmates on the path to deportation.Many believe that the federal government has grounds to sue San Francisco in federal court for obstructing its work. That’s a good idea in theory, but the Obama administration has made it clear that it will assert federal supremacy in immigration matters only when states like Arizona are trying to help enforce the laws, not when states like California try to block enforcement.
The only truly effective and lasting solution to override the current patchwork of policies is for Congress to spell out in federal law that local law-enforcement agencies must cooperate with ICE or face sanctions in the form of disqualification from certain kinds of federal funding. Such a provision has been included in the Davis-Oliver Act, introduced by Representative Trey Gowdy and Senator Jeff Sessions, and named in honor of two deputies who were killed last year by a previously deported illegal-alien cartel operative in California.
The Davis-Oliver Act has earned the endorsement of the National Sheriffs’ Association as well as many individual sheriffs and police chiefs, indicating that Sheriff Mirkarimi’s sanctuary policies are well out of the mainstream of law-enforcement practice in America. Congress — and the presidential candidates — should join the sheriffs’ association in working for a new approach that will keep the list of victims from growing.
— Jessica Vaughan is director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.