Donald Trump, at his presidential campaign announcement, offered a provocative warning about the dangers lurking at the U.S. Mexico border: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Trump said, generating boycotts, protests and numerous severed business pacts.
The next month, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot to death walking with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco. The alleged gunman, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been convicted of seven felonies and was deported from the U.S. five times. Many, including Trump, the real estate mogul and reality TV star, wondered why Lopez-Sanchez was in the county to begin with. Trump, a Republican, blamed the unsafe border, writing on Twitter, “We need a wall!”
As the case unfolds, the rekindled immigration debate is shifting beyond the theatrics of presidential politics and defying traditional partisan lines. Congressional Republicans are working to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” localities that effectively shelter unauthorized immigrants. And California’s Democratic senators have signaled their interest in participating in the debate as pressure from the public intensifies.
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Jim Steinle, Kate’s father, recently implored federal lawmakers to pass legislation “to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good.”
“Unfortunately, due to unjointed laws and basic incompetence of the government, the U.S. has suffered a self-inflicted wound in the murder of our daughter by the hand of a person that should have never been on the streets in this country,” Steinle said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Also speaking was Susan Oliver, the widow of Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Paul Oliver, whose alleged shooter, Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes, was deported several times for various felonies. Republicans have put forward legislation they believe would address concerns that prevent localities from enforcing federal immigration law, including a pair of measures named in honor of Oliver and the late Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr.
A separate bill would require a minimum five-year prison sentence for people who re-enter the U.S. after being deported.
The efforts are sure to meet fierce opposition from a Democratic White House that has repeatedly stood behind sanctuary cities.
In threatening to veto another GOP-backed bill by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, that seeks to deny certain federal funding to sanctuary cities, the Obama administration said in a statement that it fails to offer needed comprehensive immigration reforms, undermines its efforts to remove dangerous convicted criminals and to collaborate with localities, and threatens Americans’ civil rights by authorizing state and local officials to collect information about anyone’s immigration status.
Instead, they advocated for policies that focus enforcement on the worst offenders – “national security threats, convicted criminals, gang members and recent border crossers.”
Still, among the measure’s supporters is Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, who broke with most of his party. Bera said he’s gotten to know the Oliver family since the October rampage, adding “we must ensure preventable tragedies like these don’t happen in the future. He called the bill “a step in that direction.”
Hunter said in a statement after the vote that it’s about accountability.
“I think we can all agree that any state or locality must comply with the law – and they are required to coordinate and cooperate with the federal government,” he said. “If an arrest is made, the federal government should be notified. The fact that San Francisco, L.A. and other cities disagree with the politics of federal enforcement doesn’t mean they should receive a pass to subvert the law.”
In California, state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, plans to introduce a bill requiring localities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, particularly in cases where the person in custody is there on a drug-related offense. The measure, a long shot in the Democratic-dominated Legislature, would mandate that those in the country illegally be held for 48 hours so U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could consider deportation or prosecution.
More than 200 jurisdictions nationwide do not fully enforce federal immigration policies. Some discourage or bar workers from asking about immigration status. Others like Sacramento, considered a de facto sanctuary county, do not honor federal immigration detainers for fear of the legal repercussions.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones pointed to a federal court ruling out of Oregon that said local officials do not have to comply with ICE hold requests and that they could be liable for wrongful detentions.
While only applicable in that jurisdiction, Jones said pleas by him and other sheriffs for the federal government to challenge the decision were rejected.
“Although advocates would have you believe that these ... jurisdictions are recognizing the value of their community and decided not to cooperate with ICE – or other such rationales – the truth is far more simplistic,” Jones said in an email. “We don’t want to be sued because the feds won’t back us up. That’s why there is a growing number of jurisdictions refusing to honor ICE detainers, plain and simple.”
He wants to make detainers mandatory on local jails, bar sanctuary cities from enacting laws that run counter to the federal government’s, and have ICE share its resources with local law enforcement agencies.
Critics of sanctuary cities believe their growth is eroding public trust in government. In congressional testimony, Jessica M. Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies pointed to what she sees as the consequences. Vaughan said over eight months last year, more than 8,100 unauthorized immigrants who were the subject of detainers were instead released as a result of locals not cooperating with ICE.
Nearly 1,900 went on to commit another crime, she said, and less than 30 percent were reapprehended by ICE.
Despite the renewed legislative push, the group’s executive director, Mark Krikorian, said he’s concerned that congressional Republicans may compromise on a solution that provides little relief to families like the Steinles and Olivers. Rather than settling for “the lowest common denominator that Obama might sign,” Krikorian wants the GOP to advance “something that would actually have an effect – and dare Obama to veto it.”
Democrats, meantime, have largely sought to protect sanctuary cities. Many side with their local government and law enforcement leaders who believe they shouldn’t have to dedicate their time and resources to enforce federal immigration laws. They contend that under their rules, unauthorized immigrants are more comfortable approaching police officers to report crimes and comply with investigations.
Reps. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana, and Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, joined in deriding Hunter’s measure as “The Donald Trump Act.” And big-city mayors, from Bill de Blasio of New York City to Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, warned in a letter to congressional leaders that their efforts would compromise public safety.
Also endorsing the letter was Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown. “Politicizing the death of Kathryn Steinle by threatening to withhold federal public safety funding puts everyone in targeted communities at greater overall risk,” he told The Bee.
Immigrant-rights advocates worry the dynamics could shift with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California expected to unveil her own legislation. In a letter Monday, they urged Feinstein and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer not to subvert policies tailored by local law enforcement in a state with the most immigrants.
“It would send a very concerning and disturbing message to immigrants in this state,” said Angie Junck, an attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Boxer has said while sanctuary cities promote trust between residents and law enforcement, she remains open to “exploring ways” to address the issue. In an opinion piece, Boxer also noted that a California law limiting deportations does not ensure that serious or violent felons are detained, “and that is what I hope will be addressed by the state.”
At the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein said her planned measure would require local and state law enforcement governments to notify ICE about the imminent release from a detention center of an unauthorized immigrant who had been convicted of a felony, if federal officials requested such notification.
Turning to the Steinle case, Feinstein said she strongly believes that local law enforcement should have notified immigration authorities about the slaying suspect.
Said Feinstein: “It seems to me that a simple notification to ICE could have prevented Kate Steinle’s death.”
California’s ‘sanctuary’ cities and counties
The following localities have been identified by immigrant-rights advocates and supporters of stronger border enforcement as places that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities:
- Sonoma County
- Napa County
- Sacramento County
- San Francisco County
- Contra Costa County
- Alameda County
- San Mateo County
- Santa Clara County
- Santa Cruz County
- Monterey County
- San Bernardino County
- Los Angeles County
- Riverside County
- Orange County
- San Diego County
Source: The Center for Immigration Studies and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center