Law & the Courts

Democrats’ Deadly Sanctuaries

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

Kathryn Steinle, the 32-year-old woman shot in San Francisco last week, was killed by a Mexican criminal, but she was a victim of American lawlessness. Her killer should never have been on the streets of San Francisco; Immigration and Customs Enforcement should have deported him (for the sixth time, as it happens).

But they couldn’t, because San Francisco, and many other states, counties, and municipalities across the country, don’t like our immigration laws, so they interfere in the enforcement of them — sometimes with deadly consequences.

San Francisco is a “sanctuary city,” meaning that its local law enforcement often doesn’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities trying to hold or deport aliens. In this case, the city’s sheriff released Steinle’s killer in April without notifying ICE, which had a detainer order out for the man, meaning the city should have held him until ICE took custody of him.

RELATED: After the Steinle Murder, the Recklessness of ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Becomes Painfully Glaring

The city’s mayor, Ed Lee, has tried to shed responsibility for the decision, saying San Francisco’s policy “is not intended to protect repeat, serious, and violent felons.” Whatever it intends, the city does protect repeat, serious, and violent felons — it will only cooperate on immigration charges as ordered by state law or the courts, ignoring formal requests from immigration-enforcement authorities themselves.

Hillary Clinton tried similar sleight of hand when asked by CNN about Steinle’s killing this week: “The city made a mistake, not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported,” she said. San Francisco’s choice was not a “mistake” but a longstanding policy, of the type Clinton defended when running for president in 2007.

San Francisco’s choice was not a “mistake” but a longstanding policy, of the type Clinton defended when running for president in 2007.

Sanctuary states, counties, and cities add up to more than 300 jurisdictions across the country, and thousands of legal and illegal immigrants subject to deportation are released by local law enforcement every year. Democrats have been unwilling to support federal policies to punish these jurisdictions, and largely unwilling to challenge them at all. Until they do so, they are supporting policies that are not only dangerous but downright extreme — hampering the deportation of illegal aliens who have committed crimes above and beyond the ones attendant to coming and staying here illegally.

RELATED: Protect the Public, Not Criminal Immigrants

Republicans and anyone with a reasonable view of immigration should be railing against sanctuary cities and the lawlessness they foster. So what can be done, besides shaming these irresponsible jurisdictions? Senator Jeff Sessions and Representative Trey Gowdy have sponsored legislation, known as the Davis-Oliver Act, to clarify that cooperation with immigration authorities is not optional and tie the receipt of some federal policing funds to compliance. The executive branch could also file a lawsuit against sanctuary cities for obstructing federal law enforcement and ignoring the relevant law, but this, of course, will never happen under the Obama administration. We hope a Republican successor to this president will not feel so constrained.

#related#Donald Trump’s recent complaints about immigrant criminals raised hackles from many quarters, and did misrepresent things — neither legal nor illegal aliens seem to commit crime at an exceptionally high (or low) rate. But there’s an important, related point at hand after the San Francisco killing: We get to decide whom we let across our borders, and whom we send back. Federal law rightly says that serious convicted criminals should be deported, and the federal government cannot effectively do that without cooperation from the authorities that convict them in the first place.

So which part do Democrats and sanctuary-city defenders disagree with: Do they think we shouldn’t send criminal immigrants back across our borders? Or do they think we shouldn’t be worrying about who comes and goes across them at all?

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.