As 32-year-old Kate Steinle enjoyed an evening walk with her dad on a busy San Francisco pier July 1, she was on a deadly collision course with the product of a dangerous policy the city had adopted to protect the man who was about to kill her.
San Francisco is one of hundreds of communities nationwide, including a handful in Massachusetts, that designate themselves “sanctuary cities.” In an act of political hubris, local politicians instruct their police departments not to cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to further detain illegal immigrants who are in local police custody.
That’s why San Francisco officials never contacted federal immigration authorities when Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez — a Mexican national who had been deported five times and had seven prior felony convictions — was released by prosecutors on a marijuana charge. He was free to walk the same pier, pick up a gun, and allegedly kill Steinle.
Sanctuary city proponents argue that local police shouldn’t have to implement national immigration law. But that’s exactly what local officials do when they buck the federal legal system and give safe harbor to illegal immigrants — they just make up their own rules.
In Massachusetts, the mayors of Somerville and Northampton issued executive orders last year barring local police from fully cooperating with federal immigration officials. A similar proposal is being considered in Lawrence.
The term “sanctuary city” sounds warm and fuzzy, and that’s what proponents want you to think. They say sanctuary cities build trust with immigrant communities by removing the threat of a call to federal immigration officials if undocumented immigrants interface with local law enforcement.
But the stakes are high. In the first nine months of last year, sanctuary communities across the country refused 8,811 requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold illegal immigrants in local police custody, according to recent testimony by US Senator Chuck Grassley. Of those requests, 62 percent were for people who were previously charged or convicted of a crime or presented some other public safety risk. Almost 1,900 of the illegal immigrants released by sanctuary communities were later re-arrested.
Recently, sanctuary cities have become a national political flashpoint. Last week, House Republicans passed a bill to cut off certain federal law enforcement grants for sanctuary cities.
President Obama says he’ll veto the bill, which is not surprising. He issued his own executive order last November that shielded almost five million illegal immigrants from deportation.
During a floor speech criticizing the proposal to cut funding from sanctuary cities, Democratic Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts argued the bill was “meant to punish cities that don’t embrace the views of anti-immigrant extremists.”
McGovern is entitled to his political beliefs, but when it comes to sanctuary cities, let’s be clear: The “views” he’s talking about are actually federal immigration laws, which he and his congressional colleagues are responsible for either upholding or changing.
Passing the buck to local officials and encouraging them to pick and choose which federal laws to comply with is not how our system is designed to work, for good reason. It’s dangerous.
Just ask Kate Steinle’s dad, who was left to explain his daughter’s murder in these plain words: “Unfortunately, due to disjointed laws and basic incompetence on many levels, the US has suffered a self-inflicted wound in the murder of our daughter by the hand of a person that should never have been on the streets of this country.”
Meredith Warren is a Republican political analyst and consultant.