Murder sparks heated immigration debate


By Mark Wassberg, Staff Writer

The murder of Kathryn Steinle by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez at Pier 14 in San Francisco on July 1 has called into question the safety of sanctuary cities.

A sanctuary city is a term self-applied to some cities in the United States that have policies designed to not prosecute undocumented immigrants.

In San Francisco, the city passed the “City and County of Refuge” Ordinance back in 1989, which prohibits city employees from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with immigration investigations or arrests unless such help is required by federal or state law or a warrant. And this is putting lives in danger.

Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant, had illegally entered the U.S. multiple times, making him a felon, and was convicted of several drug charges from when he first arrived, almost 25 years ago. Before the shooting, he was in custody within the San Francisco County Jail on an outstanding drug warrant, a 20-year-old felony charge of selling and possessing marijuana.

After the dismissal of the charge, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department released Sanchez.

The only problem was that ICE had issued a detaining order for Sanchez asking that he be kept in custody until they were able to pick him up for deportation. Being a sanctuary city, San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi had the legal right to not notify ICE.

The city did not honor ICE’s  request and released Sanchez since he had no active warrant as confirmed by the Sheriff’s Department. Mirkarimi should have cooperated with the federal authorities and it would have possibly prevented Steinle’s death.

Because of these events, San Francisco’s sanctuary city status is called into question.

In 2007, then mayor Gavin Newsom upheld San Francisco’s commitment to immigrant communities by announcing an executive order that called on the city’s departments to develop protocol on the sanctuary ordinance.

This action was seen by many as a confirmation of Newsom’s views on sanctuary cities.

In 1990, Richmond, Calif. was declared a sanctuary city. This puts Richmond in a questionable position because of the scrutiny sanctuary cities have been receiving.

The Steinle family has publicly condemned the policy and said that if law enforcement officials had cooperated with the federal government, Kathryn’s death could have been prevented.

They are also suing the City of San Francisco and ICE, holding these agencies responsible for Steinle’s death, with Kathryn’s father providing testimony of the account to the U.S. Senate as he was present with her at the time of her murder.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said that the death could have been prevented if the Sheriff’s Department had notified ICE prior to the release of Sanchez, in a letter addressed to San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.

Lee also said the sanctuary city ordinance allows the sheriff to coordinate with federal immigration and ICE agents, further condemning the action.

However, it was the city supervisors who passed this law protecting people like Sanchez.

Many cities across the U.S. have become a haven for undocumented immigrants performing criminal activity.