A national debate over so-called “sanctuary cities” was reignited in San Francisco this week following the alleged murder of a 32-year-old woman by a Mexican national who was in the U.S. illegally.
The suspect, Francisco Sanchez, admitted to the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle in a jailhouse interview Sunday, but claimed it was an accident. In that same interview, Sanchez also indicated that San Francisco’s lax immigration policies are what attracted him to the progressive city in the first place.
San Francisco is one of dozens of cities and counties that refuse to honor federal immigration detainer requests in the absence of a violent crime or threat to national security. As a result, Sanchez was released following a March drug arrest despite multiple prior felonies and deportations, even as ICE officials were seeking an immigration hold. The revelation sparked outrage on the part of immigration enforcement activists, who said the incident underscores the need to crack down on undocumented immigrants who commit criminal offenses. Federal immigration authorities also criticized county and city officials for failing to keep tabs on the man after his release as requested.
“We’re not asking local law enforcement to do our job,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Gillian Christensen. “All we’re asking is that they notify us when a serious foreign national criminal offender is being released to the street so we can arrange to take custody.”
San Francisco has held the status of sanctuary city since 1989 when it passed the "City and County of Refuge Ordinance” or “Sanctuary Ordinance” which prohibits city employees from assisting ICE with investigations or arrests unless required by federal or state law.
Mayor Ed Lee sought to distance himself from the controversy this week, pointing instead to a 2014 directive by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi which “expands on the city’s sanctuary policies.” These policies are not intended to protect “repeat, serious violent felons,” he added, calling on federal and local agencies to investigate the incident.
Freya Horne, chief legal counsel for the San Francisco County Sheriff, said the suspect was previously let go because there was no legal cause to detain him.
Read more about the controversy here.
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