In the two weeks since the pier slaying in San Francisco, the facts leading up to the senseless, random killing are becoming nearly as disturbing as the tragedy itself.
On July 1st, 32-year-old Kate Steinle was killed while walking with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco. The man charged with her murder, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez has been deported to his native Mexico five times and has a criminal record that includes seven felony convictions.
Based on an outstanding 20-year-old bench warrant, Lopez-Sanchez was transferred on March 26th from the California federal prison in Victorville to San Francisco, after completing his sentence for illegal entry.
The bench warrant may have been flagged because it was Lopez-Sanchez's first completed sentence in California since the no-extradition warrant was issued. Nonetheless, the charge was dismissed on March 27th and he was released on April 15th by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, who did not honor a detainer request issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities.
At the time of the release, Lopez-Sanchez did not have a conviction for a violent felony over the past seven years and did not have any remaining charges. Therefore, according to provisions in the "Due Process for All" ordinance, approved by the S.F. County Board of Supervisors, and signed by the mayor in October of 2013, Lopez-Sanchez was eligible to be released from custody.
In an interview, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said, "The sanctuary city ordinance was never designed to harbor repeat, serious offenders."
The California Trust Act, also signed in October of 2013 by Governor Jerry Brown, gives local law enforcement officials the discretion to cooperate with federal immigration officials if an individual, otherwise eligible for release; "has been convicted at any time for felony possession, sale, distribution, manufacture, or trafficking of controlled substances."
Lopez-Sanchez has four prior felony drug convictions.
Apparently, in complete disregard to the discretion granted by state law to local authorities, S. F. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said recently at a news conference that his office "requires a warrant" and a detention hold "is not a legal document."
California has fourteen counties with sanctuary city policies within their jurisdictions. They are primarily located in the metropolitan areas of the Bay Area and Southern California. The policies are designed to prevent law enforcement and local government employees from asking individuals about their immigration status.
The policies protect undocumented immigrants from living in fear of being picked up, deported, and separated from their families. In addition, it allows undocumented immigrants the opportunity to come forward if they are a victim, or a witness, of a crime.
A few days after the pier slaying, California Senator Dianne Feinstein urged S.F. officials to participate in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) new program called the Priority Enforcement Program created by an executive order from President Barack Obama in November of 2014. The new voluntary program helps ICE officials focus on serious criminals and national security threats.
The new program replaces DHS's controversial and unconstitutional (by court decision) Secure Communities (S-Comm) civil detainer policy for local law enforcement agencies.
According to the S.F. Public Defender's office, as of May 2013, nearly 100,000 California residents have been deported under the 2008 policy. Also of concern to S.F. officials are the findings of a 2011 national study which concluded, "ICE has falsely detained approximately 3,600 U.S. citizens as a result of S-Comm."
While local and federal officials debate the facts in this tragic case, it's time for Congress to settle the controversy for local law enforcement agencies with sanctuary city policies.
It's reported that Kate's parents are hoping for federal legislation that may prevent this type of tragedy from happening again.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, is working on a bill that will require local law enforcement authorities to turn over undocumented immigrants with a felony conviction to ICE officials.
It is a parent's worst nightmare to find out that their child was killed by a random act of violence. In this case, the nightmare gets worse when the parents learn that the senseless, violent act could have easily been prevented by the local law enforcement officials responsible for public safety.