Several cities within California and other states across the country have enforced “sanctuary laws” since the 1980s. If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to policies that prohibit city officials and law enforcement to inquire about an individual’s immigration status, and makes it illegal for a police officer to arrest someone solely because they think they may be illegally living in the country.
Sanctuary laws within San Francisco became a topic of discussion last year after the death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, a Pleasanton woman who was shot and killed while walking with her father along Pier 14. Steinle’s death made headlines because she was young, beautiful and educated; and her life was cut short by a homeless illegal immigrant living on the streets of San Francisco named Francisco Sanchez, a career criminal who had been deported back to Mexico a total of five times. Mostly drug convictions, Sanchez was most recently arrested on an outstanding drug warrant for 20-year-old felony marijuana charges. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department decided to drop all charges and release him from jail without any outstanding warrants on April 15, 2015.
A month and a half later, he fired three shots from a stolen Bureau of Land Management officer’s gun, one of which fatally struck Steinle in the back. Sanchez was later charged with murder, although he claimed the shooting was an accident. This tragedy could have been avoided if the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been able to do their job and remove Sanchez from the country once again. ICE is the U.S. government’s second largest criminal investigation agency (the largest is the F.B.I.) and is responsible for deporting illegal criminals out of this country.
Sanctuary laws were originally designed to protect illegal immigrants that were victims of crimes themselves, to eliminate the fear of deportation when reporting crimes. But as with Steinle’s death, it’s clear this plan has backfired and has put all residents of these sanctuary cities at risk. The other issue with the policy is the clash between local and federal laws.
Sanchez was never turned over to ICE because the sheriff at the time of the shooting supported the city’s sanctuary laws, which caused Sanchez to be released from jail. Sanctuary laws protect criminals and put the community at risk, and after the highly publicized death of Steinle, the sheriff lost reelection to a candidate who supports greater communication with the federal government and enforcement of these deportation policies. Rather than send these criminals back to their home countries, we allow them to roam in our neighborhoods and continue to break the law. They know no matter how many times they commit crimes, they will be arrested, and often give fake names to law enforcement because they are undocumented, and eventually released. They don’t have the fear of deportation, so more illegal immigrants flock to these sanctuary cities, and unfortunately dangerous criminals are among those migrating here.
This controversial policy within San Francisco is going to be reevaluated, and a vote was set to take place last week on whether or not to enforce federal laws and when to turn individuals such as Sanchez over to the federal government. The proposed ordinance would instruct law enforcement officers to notify ICE about an illegal criminal and disclose his immigration status only if the individual was charged with a violent crime or convicted of a violent crime within the last seven years. The vote has since been postponed and it’s unclear whether or not the new sheriff will change San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city, or accept the proposed city ordinance. One thing is clear however: the priority of local and federal law enforcement should be to protect the citizens they serve from criminals in our community.