Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Safety about more than securing borders

Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, right, is led into the courtroom July 7 by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco in the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle. Steinle, 32, was fatally shot while walking on a San Francisco pier, and authorities arrested suspect Sanchez, who was released from jail in April even though immigration officials had lodged a detainer to try to deport him from the country for a sixth time.
Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, right, is led into the courtroom July 7 by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco in the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle. Steinle, 32, was fatally shot while walking on a San Francisco pier, and authorities arrested suspect Sanchez, who was released from jail in April even though immigration officials had lodged a detainer to try to deport him from the country for a sixth time. San Francisco Chronicle

I’ve resisted writing about the tragic case of the young woman killed at Pier 14 in San Francisco because the suspect is an undocumented immigrant and that key fact causes too many brains to shut off completely.

There is no talking reasonably about anything involving undocumented immigrants when too many people would rather ape Donald Trump and scream about the border.

Nevertheless, here are some statistics for the border screamers to consider: The federal government spends $18 billion per year on immigration enforcement, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute. According to the Pew Research Center, there has been a 50 percent drop of immigrants crossing our border from Mexico since 2009.

The levels of Border Patrol agents have surged since 9/11. The border is militarized in many sections, but to completely seal off a 2,000-mile expanse would cost an additional $28 billion per year, according to a study by Bloomberg Government.

“(That’s) roughly the same amount taxpayers spend on the Department of Justice’s annual budget,” wrote Elizabeth Dwoskin of Bloomberg Business in 2013.

The use of this tragic case to stoke the immigration “debate” is preposterous, since neither Republicans nor Democrats would ever spend another $28 billion annually on securing the U.S.-Mexico border. And it’s not a debate. It’s a sideshow that comes along every few years without fail. Trump is a crude, less sophisticated version of Gov. Pete Wilson, who parlayed border screaming into re-election in 1994 – while accomplishing nothing else.

Any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that the suspect in Pier 14 killing, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, shouldn’t have been in this country after being deported five previous times. No one wants people like that – whether documented or undocumented – on our streets.

I’ve taken my own family to the piers on the Embarcadero on many occasions, the last time about two weeks before Kathryn Steinle, 32, was shot by a gun allegedly fired by Sanchez.

Her dad was with her, had his arm around her while posing for photographs, as the fatal bullet struck her body on July 1. The last words Jim Steinle heard his daughter say were: “Dad, help me.” Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe this.

While the reasons it happened go far beyond immigration control and reform, pundits are lambasting San Francisco law enforcement or the concept of “sanctuary” cities such as San Francisco. But you can’t lay this on Ross Mirkarimi, the San Francisco sheriff.

Instead, consider Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. Last year, Jones called out President Barack Obama on the issue of immigration in a videotaped message that generated a lot of attention. Jones made the video after a Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamontes, Mexican national who had twice been deported from the U.S., allegedly killed two law enforcement officers in Sacramento.

Jones is no softie on crime, immigration or anything else. But what would he have done with Sanchez?

“If that guy had come up for release in my jail, I would not have held that guy one minute longer than I had to,” Jones said on Tuesday.

Jones called California a de facto “sanctuary state,” one where Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Trust Act in 2013 – which limits the state’s cooperation with federal authorities on immigration. Brown signed the Trust Act in part because he felt federal authorities were unfairly detaining people during immigration sweeps, and that was making communities distrustful of local police.

Consequently, Jones said his agency does not honor “detainers” of prisoners requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jones said he would like to defy state laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but he said he doesn’t because the feds won’t back him up.

Brown and other state officials placed limitations on cooperating with federal immigration authorities to put pressure on Congress to finally pass immigration reform. That reform should include revamped policies on what to do with serial deportees such as Sanchez. But after a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in the U.S. Senate, it was blocked by House Republicans from even coming to a vote. At least for now, and possibly until there is a new president in the White House, the issue is dead.

No reform, no cooperation. No cooperation, and men like Sanchez get turned loose every day.

That’s the point that we’re missing while screaming about the border. Along with parole violations and returning to the U.S. after being deported, the rest of Sanchez’s criminal record was centered on drug offenses.

Even if Sanchez were not undocumented, that kind of record can mean a-get-out-of-jail card since California voters passed Proposition 47. Californians overwhelmingly supported the idea of clearing jails of “nonviolent offenders.”

Unless some new information comes out about his record, Sanchez did not have violent convictions in his past.

More violent men than Sanchez are being turned loose in Sacramento under Prop. 47 every day.

Jones said he is convinced that most residents don’t understand that theft of a firearm, elder abuse, brandishing a firearm to resist arrest, stalking and other egregious offenses are considered “nonviolent” under Prop. 47.

“It’s a statutory definition and not a common sense one,” he said.

Robin Shakely, assistant chief deputy district attorney in Sacramento County, said her agency has turned loose men with violent pasts – including one who broke the arm of a Sacramento police officer.

Why? His last conviction had been for a drug charge that was reduced to a misdemeanor in the wake of Proposition 47.

Shakely said roughly 1,400 felons had had their cases reduced to misdemeanors in Sacramento as of the end of June. Some have been in and out of prison for years. They aren’t crossing a militarized border to arrive in Sacramento. They are already here. They are on the streets.

That doesn’t mean that the Sanchez case wasn’t a travesty. Immigration reform should bring harsher sentences that specifically target those who continually return to the U.S. after being deported.

But men with scarier records than Sanchez are getting out every day. Does it make you feel safer if they are American citizens?

Editor’s note: ​This column paraphrased Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, saying “most residents don't understand that theft of a firearm, elder abuse, brandishing a firearm to resist arrest, stalking and other egregious offenses are considered non-violent under Prop. 47.” To clarify, Prop. 47 did not describe these crimes as "non-violent." Prop. 47 reduces certain theft and drug possession crimes to misdemeanors if the defendant has not had any prior convictions for specific disqualifying offenses. The offenses listed by Jones are not among those that specifically disqualify a person from having a theft or drug offense reduced to a misdemeanor.

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