‘Sanctuary Cities’ Won’t Change Immigrant Detention Policies After Fatal San Francisco Shooting

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez enters court for an arraignment with San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi  on July 7, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. Lopez-Sanchez plead not guilty to charges that he shot and killed 32 year-old Kathryn Steinle as she walked on Pier 14 in San Francisco with her father. (PHOTO CREDIT: Pool, Getty Images)
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez enters court for an arraignment with San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi on July 7, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. Lopez-Sanchez plead not guilty to charges that he shot and killed 32 year-old Kathryn Steinle as she walked on Pier 14 in San Francisco with her father. (PHOTO CREDIT: Pool, Getty Images)

A woman’s murder in San Francisco that police say was committed by an undocumented immigrant released from jail has not prompted other “sanctuary cities” to change their immigrant detention polices.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is charged with murder for allegedly shooting 32-year-old Kathryn “Kate” Steinle in the back on July 1 as she was walking with her father along San Francisco’s scenic Embarcadero waterfront. Federal immigration authorities have lashed out at local police for having ignored a request to hold Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented Mexican felon, so that he could be deported.

More than 200 cities around the country have passed laws in recent years prohibiting law enforcement officers from detaining suspects based solely on requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. While many examined their policies in the wake of the July 1 San Francisco shooting, none has reported a decision to make a change.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman said the shooting was a tragic “breakdown of the system” that allowed an undocumented immigrant with an extensive criminal history to be set free. But she warned about a “knee-jerk reaction” of using local police as de-facto immigration agents.

“I don’t see that we would make a change. I would fight it,” she said. “If the only reason someone is in custody is an ICE hold, we’re not doing it.”

People arrested by local law enforcement already have their fingerprints sent to the FBI to check if they are wanted for crimes in other jurisdictions. At the heart of the debate in many sanctuary cities is a federal program that also forwards those fingerprints to the Department of Homeland Security to check for immigration violations.

If a person is found to have immigration violations on their record, ICE agents can request the local agency to hold onto that person for up to 48 hours after they’re cleared of local charges. But in recent years, local agencies have fought back.

Some, like Miami-Dade County, were upset over the cost of the program. Holding immigrants for ICE after they paid their bond or completed their jail sentences cost the county more than $1 million in 2011, according to Heyman’s office.

In a resolution passed last year by Cambridge, Mass., the city said the program was being abused by ICE to round up undocumented immigrants with little to no criminal record, undermining their relationship with the local community. According to the resolution, 75% of ICE detainers issued from 2008 to 2011 were placed on undocumented immigrants with no criminal history.

ICE says it has worked to address the concerns of local law enforcement agencies in the past few years by focusing more heavily on undocumented immigrants with extensive criminal histories, and those who are members of criminal gangs or pose a threat to national security. In 2008, 38% of people deported from the country had a criminal conviction on their record, according to ICE. By 2014, that figure had risen to 85%.

“The agency remains committed to working collaboratively with its law enforcement partners to ensure the public’s safety,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Alan Gomez