“We’re here not only for Kate, to keep her memory alive, but to have something done,” James Steinle said this past September at a news conference announcing legal action his family was filing against San Francisco over the death of his daughter by an illegal immigrant. The story, which made national headlines and renewed demands to put an end to so-called “sanctuary cities,” is a tragedy on every level with plenty of blame to go around. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had seven felony drug convictions and five prior deportations, was sent back to San Francisco after serving time at the federal prison in Victorville, Calif., to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge. He was later released, homeless and indigent, on the streets of San Francisco.
According to police, Lopez-Sanchez “found” a loaded gun that had been stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger who left it unsecured in his car. On an evening stroll with her father and a friend along the scenic Embarcadero, Kate Steinle was shot and killed when Lopez-Sanchez “accidentally” fired the gun and a bullet ricocheted off a wall and into her heart.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee immediately blamed Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi for not notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before releasing Lopez-Sanchez, but Mirkarimi said he was following the Due Process for All Ordinance, unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by Lee in 2013, which directs local law enforcement not to hold individuals based on ICE detainer requests unless they’ve been convicted of a violent felony in the past seven years or there is a judge’s finding of probable cause. Lee shot back that the law was not intended to shield violent felons; however, Lopez-Sanchez did not have any violent felony convictions and therefore would have been protected under the very law that Lee signed.
On Oct. 20, 2015, Supervisor Mark Farrell asked the board to pass a nonbinding resolution requesting that Mirkarimi rescind an order made in a March 2014 memo prohibiting sheriff’s deputies from communicating with ICE. As Farrell spoke, a crowd of 250 immigrant rights advocates turned their backs on him in a show of protest. His fellow supervisors pretty much did the same by unanimously passing an alternate nonbinding resolution by Supervisor David Campos that affirms the existing policy of not notifying ICE when illegal immigrants are being released, supporting Mirkarimi’s position. Under the Campos resolution, Lopez-Sanchez still would have been freed before the shooting. In other words, nothing has changed.
In an embarrassing display of arrogance and ignorance, Supervisor Malia Cohen called Steinle’s death “senseless and tragic” but said that she and her colleagues disagreed on “the role — if any — that San Francisco’s existing sanctuary and due-process-for-all ordinances played in the event.” Cohen told a cheering crowd, “We cannot allow one event to dictate 25 years of our city’s policies toward undocumented immigrants.” She then turned to Farrell. “I asked you privately and I am asking you publicly to respectfully table this issue so we can work on real policy solutions rather than grandstanding on nonbinding resolutions,” Cohen said, while grandstanding on the opposing nonbinding resolution.
If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because exactly six years ago to the day of this hearing, on Oct. 20, 2009, the board voted to overturn a policy ordered by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom requiring the police to contact ICE upon arresting a juvenile illegal immigrant on felony charges. “Sanctuary city was never designed to protect people who commit crimes,” Newsom said at the time. Once again it was Campos who sponsored an alternate ordinance to shield criminal illegals, stating that referrals would be required only after juveniles were convicted of crimes instead of after their arrest.
Newsom’s policy stemmed from a series of disturbing incidents, including the revelation that the city had flown some minors to their home countries at taxpayer expense rather than turn them over to ICE, and had sent a gang of young Honduran crack dealers to a group home in Southern California from which they simply walked away. It was also in response to anger over a June 2008 triple murder committed by Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant gang member from El Salvador who had been picked up as a juvenile by San Francisco police but not turned over to ICE.
So here we are six years later, with a young woman dead at the hands of an illegal immigrant released from jail because of San Francisco lawmakers and their bizarre obsession with pandering to the illegal immigrant community. Cohen and Campos regurgitate their mantra that most undocumented immigrants don’t break the law (except for the fact they’re in the United States illegally to start with) and the city of San Francisco continues to cavalierly put the rights of those here illegally before the rights of its own citizens. While Cohen says the Steinle case was just a freak thing that has nothing to do with sanctuary policies, statistics say otherwise. In July, ICE revealed that 1,800 illegal immigrants released by sanctuary cities last year were charged with 7,500 new crimes, and over 1,000 of the illegals facing criminal charges are still on the loose. The October 2014 report detailed the release by 276 sanctuary cities of more than 8,000 illegal immigrants held on criminal charges — despite ICE requests to detain them — over an eight-month period. I’m sure Campos and Cohen would argue that the crimes were likely minor, but those divulged in the report prove otherwise:
- In San Francisco on March 19, 2014, an illegal immigrant with two prior deportations was arrested for felony second-degree robbery, felony conspiracy to commit a crime, and felony possession of a narcotic controlled substance. After release, he was again arrested for felony rape with force or fear, felony sexual penetration with force, felony false imprisonment, and witness intimidation, among other charges.
- In San Mateo County on Feb. 16, 2014, an illegal immigrant was arrested for felony lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. In addition, he had a prior DUI conviction. Following release by local law enforcement, the individual was arrested for three counts of felony oral copulation with a victim under 10 and two counts of felony lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14.
- On April 6, 2014, an illegal immigrant was arrested in Los Angeles for felony continuous sexual abuse of a child. After release, he was arrested again for felony sodomy of a victim under 10 years old … and the list goes on.
“We went from being one of the most enlightened cities to be a place many steps backward to where the rest of the country is,” Campos said in 2009 after thwarting Newsom’s ordinance. After the board approved his latest resolution to continue shielding criminal illegal immigrants, Campos said, “I’m so proud of San Francisco. I’m so proud that notwithstanding the climate at the national level of scapegoating immigrants that San Francisco went against that.”
You would think the Steinle case would be a wake-up call for City Hall, but it appears Kate’s heartbreaking death was in vain. It certainly hasn’t humbled the mayor, the sheriff, or the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The only hope her family has now to “keep her memory alive and have something done” is through a lawsuit. Meanwhile, taxpayers will be footing the bill for a vigorous criminal defense of Lopez-Sanchez, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
At the arraignment, Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said Steinle’s death was tragic but that “very likely this was an accidental shooting.” I’m sure that makes her family feel a whole lot better.