The father of a 32-year-old Pleasanton woman who was fatally shot while walking along San Francisco's Pier 14 wants Congress to reform laws that allowed her alleged killer to remain in the United States despite being deported several times.
Addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Jim Steinle said he and his family support legislation that would close some legal loopholes that currently allow local authorities to decide if they will cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Steinle's daughter, Kathryn, was killed on July 1 as the pair strolled at the Embarcadero. The duo were “walking arm-in-arm” relishing a “wonderful day together," Jim Steinle recalled.
"Suddenly a shot rang out, Kate fell, and looked at me and said, 'Help me, Dad,'" he said. "Those were the last words I will ever hear from my daughter."
Jim Steinle said that Kate, an avid traveler, "shined the light of a good citizen of the United States of America" everywhere she went.
"Unfortunately, due to disjointed laws and basic incompetence on many levels, the U.S. has suffered a self-inflicted wound in the murder of our daughter by the hand of a person that should never have been on the streets of this country," Steinle said.
The undocumented immigrant arrested in connection with Kathryn Steinle’s death, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, has several felony convictions and had been deported from the U.S. five times before the shooting.
Jim Steinle described his daughter as “beautiful,” “happy” and “deep in faith.” She had a “special soul,” he added, memorializing his child’s “contagious” laughter and “kind and giving heart.”
“All children are special in their own way,” said Steinle, as wife Liz Sullivan looked on. “And Kate was special in the way she connected with people. We called it the ‘Kate effect.’”
Sanchez was last sent to prison by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas on a charge of re-entering the United States after being deported.
On March 26, he was released from the federal Bureau of Prisons, and turned over to the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Office because he still had an active criminal warrant for felony sale of marijuana, federal records show. On March 26, ICE lodged an immigration detainer asking to be notified when he is released.
However, local authorities released Sanchez without notifying ICE on April 15, because of the city and county's sanctuary status. San Francisco and other jurisdictions have begun refusing to cooperate with federal immigration orders amid concerns over their legality and their impact on immigrant communities.
The House is slated to take up a bill this week blocking funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" that resist turning over immigrants to federal authorities. Lawmakers say the Obama Administration’s oversight of immigration enforcement policies is creating a threat to public safety.
The bill by Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California would block certain federal grants to cities that don't honor federal immigration requests.
A similar proposal has been advanced in the Senate, but it's unclear how far it will go.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities on Monday sent a letter to lawmakers protesting any such legislation.
"We believe that decisions related to how law enforcement agencies prioritize their resources, direct their workforce and define the duties of their employees must reside with local government leadership," the letter reads.
"This includes defining the role of local police officers in the context of enforcing federal immigration laws," it continued.
The Archbishop of San Francisco also sent a letter Monday urging the committee to "avoid the implementation of policies that punish all immigrants for the transgressions of a small minority."
"I applaud the commitment to public safety of the city of San Francisco and other local jurisdictions and support their right to exercise reasonable and appropriate discretion in the handling of immigrant detainees," Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone wrote. "A just and humanitarian policy should not be abandoned because of flaws in the system."
On Tuesday, Jim Steinle testified alongside several other relatives of people allegedly killed by immigrants living in the country illegally. Reform could save innocent lives, he stressed.
"I feel strongly that some legislation should be discussed, enacted and changed to take these undocumented immigrants off ours streets," Steinle said in closing. "If Kate's law saves one daughter, one son, a mother, a father, Kate's death won't be in vain."
The tense, emotional moments didn't happen only during the testimony. One California man who says his son was killed in a 2010 crash involving an undocumented immigrant was arrested after yelling out during testimony.