The controversy that erupted after an undocumented immigrant shot a young woman at San Francisco's popular Pier 14 earlier this month took a new turn Wednesday when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee asked the city's sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, to notify federal officials when his department released undocumented felons.
In his letter, Lee urged Mirkarimi to change his department's policy in the interest of public safety, adding that the city's sanctuary ordinance allowed this. San Francisco's sanctuary city policy — which offers special protection for undocumented immigrants — sparked a national immigration debate following the shooting.
Mirkarimi faced intense criticism in the wake of the shooting because his department had custody of the man charged with the murder of the young woman at the pier and let him go without notifying ICE prior to the shooting.
Lee wrote that back in March Mirkarimi ordered his department to cease all communications with federal immigration authorities regarding "requests for notification" for "undocumented, convicted felons."
"I urge you to rescind this policy immediately, in the interest of public safety," Lee said.
The mayor said in his letter that local law enforcement officials could notify federal officials when an individual was set to be released in certain circumstances — this was not prohibited by the city's civil detainer policy from 2013.
Mirkarimi responded to Lee's letter Thursday, saying through a statement that the Mayor's request raises legal conflicts.
"This tragedy spotlights the need for legal clarity at every government level,” Mirkarimi said. “This matter requires an open and honest conversation about the legislative intent and meaning of San Francisco's ordinances and how they comport with everyday enforcement of laws leading to deportations."
Mexican national Francisco Sanchez pleaded not guilty to the July 1 murder of Kate Steinle.
According to immigration officials, Sanchez, a 45-year-old repeat drug offender, was deported five times. He was out on the streets of San Francisco after city officials disregarded a request from immigration authorities to keep him locked up.
Sanchez told television reporters in a jailhouse interview that he decided to come to San Francisco because of its sanctuary city status, which prohibits city employees from helping federal authorities with immigration investigations or arrests unless required by law or warrant. That said, the ordinance does not prohibit local law enforcement from informing ICE that they've arrested someone in the country illegally for a felony offense or who has prior felony convictions. Since the shooting, the sanctuary city policy has been criticized by everybody from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
Mirkarimi has defended his office's decision to release Sanchez, who was in the U.S. illegally. He said that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency should earlier have issued an arrest warrant for Francisco Sanchez.
In response to criticism about the city's sanctuary city policy, Lee issued a statement saying it was never intended to protect "repeat, serious and violent felons."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.