Lawmakers and politicians are criticizing the failure to deport an immigrant with multiple felony convictions and an outstanding drug warrant who allegedly went on to murder a woman in San Francisco.
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, in an interview with CNN, said that the City of San Francisco's law enforcement officials were wrong to release from jail Mexican national Francisco Sanchez, who is now at the center of a national immigration controversy.
"The city made a mistake, not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported,'' Clinton said. "So I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores the strong evidence that should be acted on.''
The Sheriff's Department ignored "strong evidence" that Sanchez should have been turned over to immigration officials and deported, according to Clinton.
In a similar vein, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a statement Tuesday saying that she has personally been investigating the circumstances surrounding Kathryn Steinle's fatal shooting July 1.
“I strongly believe that an undocumented individual, convicted of multiple felonies and with a detainer request from ICE, should not have been released," she said. "We should focus on deporting convicted criminals, not setting them loose on our streets."
Feinstein also wrote to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to express her "deep concern" about Sanchez's release, adding that it "led to last week’s tragic death." Her letter "urged" Lee to "prevent such a tragedy" from reoccurring by joining the Department of Homeland Security's Priority Enforcement Program, which would enable local law enforcement agencies to "provide notice to ICE before releasing aliens with long criminal records."
The San Francisco mayor's office said it has reached out to Department of Homeland Security officials to determine if there's a way to cooperate with federal immigration officials while still maintaining the sanctuary policy.
"Mayor Lee shares the senator's concerns surrounding the nature of Mr. Sanchez' transfer to San Francisco and release,'' said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "As the mayor has stated, we need to gather all of the facts as we develop potential solutions.''
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, also from Northern California, said she asked Gov. Jerry Brown if state law was followed in the release of Sanchez.
"For decades, I have supported deporting violent criminals, and I have always believed that sanctuary should not be given to felons,'' Boxer said.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis) echoed the same sentiment.
"He had a criminal warrant but was released into the general society to commit a murder. Does that make any sense to you?'' Johnson, who chairs the Senate's homeland security committee, demanded to know at a hearing. "Because I'll tell you it doesn't make any sense to the American public.''
Philip Miller, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, blamed San Francisco, saying officials there did not honor a federal request, known as a "detainer," to keep Francisco Sanchez in custody.
Sanchez, who is from Mexico and is in the United States illegally, allegedly shot and killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle last week as she was sightseeing with her father along a popular local pier.
"In that particular case our detainer was not honored,'' Miller said. "San Francisco sheriff's department did not honor our detainer.''
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has defended his office's decision, saying ICE should have issued an arrest warrant earlier. Miller declined after the hearing to comment on that assertion. But Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE told NBC Bay Area this week that "obtaining judicial warrants is not only unnecessary, it would place an immense burden on both ICE and the federal courts." She added that last year, ICE deported more than 177,000 immigrants with criminal convictions.
Steinle's death has offered ammunition to GOP critics of Obama administration policies, including presidential candidate Donald Trump, who's cited it to justify his claims that many immigrants are criminals. Sanchez has a long criminal history, but mostly for drug use, dating back to the 1990s, federal records show.
At the same time it plays into a larger, politically charged immigration debate between federal authorities and local jurisdictions.
Hundreds of local jurisdictions have refused to participate in a disputed federal program, Secure Communities, that allows local authorities to turn over information on immigrants they pick up to the federal government. San Francisco takes it farther than many, even boasting of itself as a ``sanctuary city'' that protects immigrants.
President Barack Obama announced last fall he was ending the Secure Communities program and replacing it with a new approach meant to address concerns about immigrants being targeted.
But that has sparked more criticism from Republicans who embraced Secure Communities as an effective law enforcement tool and oppose Obama's attempts to change immigration law through executive actions without Congress' consent.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., announced Tuesday he would bring Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson before his committee next week to answer questions on the matter.
"Just recently, we were reminded that the Obama administration's reckless actions, such as permitting sanctuary city policies, lead to tragic and deadly consequences,'' Goodlatte said.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner in Washington D.C., Amy Taxin in Los Angeles and Janie Har in San Francisco and NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez, Riya Bhattacharjee and Rhea Mahbubani in San Jose contributed to this report.