Mayor Ed Lee Chimes in on Pier 14 Murder, Backs San Francisco's Sanctuary Policy

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is the latest to weigh in on the immigration debate centered around Kathryn Steinle’s fatal shooting at Pier 14.

In a statement released Monday, Lee described feeling "deeply saddened" by the "tragic and senseless death," adding that his "thoughts and prayers" are with the 32-year-old Pleasanton woman's family. 

"I have spoken with Kathryn’s family, and they would like everyone to remember their daughter for the wonderful person that she was," he said.

Lee endorsed San Francisco's so-called sanctuary city policy, which has received a lot of flak in the aftermath of Steinle's death, but offered a caveat.

"Let me be clear: [the policy] protects residents regardless of immigration status and is not intended to protect repeat, serious and violent felons," he said. 

At about 6:30 p.m. July 1, Steinle, a recent transplant to San Francisco, was walking near the Embarcadero with her father when she was gunned down. Police arrested Francisco Sanchez soon after the incident. Prosecutors charged him with murder Monday. 

From jail, Sanchez, a 45-year-old repeat drug offender, told a KGO-TV reporter that he came to San Francisco because of its status as a sanctuary city. He also claimed to have no recollection of the incident since he was high on sleeping pills and marijuana at the time.

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Sanchez is an undocumented immigrant with a long rap sheet, who has been deported to Mexico five times.

Earlier this year, Sanchez was released from federal prison — where he had served a sentence for re-entering the United States after deportation — and turned over to the San Francisco's Sheriff's Department on an outstanding drug-related warrant.

The district attorney's office declined to prosecute what authorities said was a decade-old marijuana possession case. Sanchez was freed on April 15 — instead of being handed over to federal immigration officials — despite having a "detainer" on his status in jail. 

Authorities defended their move by citing San Francisco's sanctuary city policy. The Federation for American Immigration Reform describes it as one that prohibits "local police from asking suspects about their immigration status or reporting them to immigration authorities."

Standing behind the sanctuary law, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he uniformly ignores detainer requests unless they are followed by an active arrest warrant.

For his part, Lee, who was born to immigrant parents, said that he wants his hometown to safeguard the "well-being and success of all families" irrespective of where they are from.

"Our city’s policy helps immigrant and limited-English speaking communities where sometimes people fear and mistrust the criminal justice system," he stressed. "We want people to report crimes, we want children of undocumented immigrants to attend school, and we want families to get access to much needed social services without fear of their city government reporting them to federal authorities."

Lee pointed to his commitment to both "civil liberties" and "public safety" as the reason why, in 2013, he decided to "veto any legislation" that undermined the San Francisco Sheriff's Department's ability to honor ICE's "detainers" on a case-by-case basis.

That said, however, Lee noted: "I am concerned about the circumstances that led to the release of Mr. Sanchez. All agencies involved, federal and local, need to conduct quick, thorough and objective reviews of their own departmental policies and the decisions they made in this case."

Lee also promised to continue working toward immigration reform so cities aren't put in the unenviable position of having to "make and enforce immigration law."

Steinle's death has prompted a flurry of criticism from ICE, politicians and commenters on social media, all of whom portrayed the slaying as a preventable tragedy.

"Most of the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of the San Francisco sheriff, because his department had custody of him and made the choice to let him go without notifying ICE,'' said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which wants tougher immigration enforcement.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, blamed sanctuary practices and the Obama administration, saying in a statement: "The tragic murder of Kate Steinle once again underscores the need to end these reckless policies.''

For more than two decades, San Francisco has been considered a sanctuary for people in the U.S. illegally. In 2013, Mirkarimi's office started turning over fewer people under arrest to federal immigration agents for deportation.

Many cities around the U.S. have scaled back collaboration with federal immigration authorities, but few have gone as far as San Francisco.

"We're not asking local law enforcement to do our job,'' ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement. "All we're asking is that they notify us when a serious foreign national criminal offender is being released to the street so we can arrange to take custody.''

Freya Horne, legal counsel for Mirkarimi's office, said that ICE could have issued an active warrant if immigration authorities wanted to keep him in custody, and that ICE is aware of San Francisco's policy.

During his jailhouse interview, Sanchez said in a mix of Spanish and English that he found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt while sitting on a bench at the pier.

"So I picked it up and ... it started to fire on its own,'' Sanchez said, adding that he heard three shots go off.

Asked if he came to San Francisco because of its sanctuary status, he said yes.

"I only want to say that if the court wants to find me guilty, I wouldn't get mad,'' Sanchez said during the interview, in which he appeared confused and spoke incoherently at times.

The Rev. John Anderson of St. John's Presbyterian Church in San Francisco said that he favors sanctuary but that agencies should figure out how to cooperate.

"There should be, rather than a black and white, there should be, 'Let's have a conversation about certain individuals,''' he said. "It's really hard to find a middle ground, but I think we have to struggle better on a middle ground.'' 

Meanwhile, real estate mogul Donald Trump also decided to speak out.

“This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately," the Republican presidential hopeful said in a statement July 3.

Trump continued: "The American people deserve a wall to protect our jobs, economy and our safety. I am the only candidate who would build it.”

In response, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said, "I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration."

But fellow presidential candidate Jeb Bush criticized Trump's comments about Latinos.

"I don't think he represents the Republican Party, and his views are way out of the mainstream of what most Republicans think," he told reporters in New Hampshire, according to NBC News.

Not to be outdone, Trump, on July 4, retweeted a post suggesting that Bush "has to like the Mexican Illegals" because his wife Columba is a Mexican woman.

The tweet was apparently taken down from his account the next day.

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