As S.F. shooting suspect apologizes, factions square off over noncompliance policy

By Eric Kurhi and Matthew Artz, San Jose Mercury News

July 07–As Mexican national and five-time deportee Francisco Sanchez somberly stammered an apology to the family of the woman he admitted shooting to death as she walked along a scenic San Francisco pier, factions on Monday squared off on the city’s policy of noncooperation with federal immigration officials.

“There’s been a lot of outcry on both sides of this issue,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice. “The only thing everyone agrees on is that this was tragic.”

The famously liberal Bay Area has its share of “sanctuary cities” — with Oakland and Berkeley in line with San Francisco — that don’t abide by federal requests related to undocumented violators. San Francisco released Sanchez in mid-April when drug charges against him were dropped, ignoring a request from immigration authorities to return him to their jurisdiction.

Kice said Monday that they’re not asking jurisdictions to hold subjects, but rather to “notify us when a serious foreign national criminal is being released to the street so we can arrange to take custody.”

In the wake of the shooting, the Berkeley City Council could be asked to reconsider its refusal to work with federal immigration officials regarding inmates who were arrested for a violent offense and have a history of violent crime. Council members rejected any such cooperation in 2012.

“It seems reasonable that if one has a violent criminal past we would cooperate,” Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said. “But on the other hand, I hate to make policy based on one extraordinary event.”

Sanchez, 45, was charged with murder on Monday, according to San Francisco authorities. He told a television station that San Francisco’s sanctuary status is what brought him to the city. He said the shooting was an accident that happened when he found a gun wrapped in a T-shirt at the pier.

“So I picked it up and … it started to fire on its own,” Sanchez told KGO-TV. “Suddenly I heard that ‘boom-boom,’ three times.”

One of the bullets pierced the aorta of former Pleasanton resident Kate Steinle, who collapsed to the ground in front of her father, who desperately tried to save his daughter’s life as she pleaded for help. Her brother, Brad Steinle, told CNN broadcaster Anderson Cooper on Monday night that he and his family would rather focus on her memory than become angry.

“It would be easy for us to hate and be angry, but Kate wouldn’t want that,” he said during the telephone interview. “The unintentional has happened, and we’re focusing on the good.

Others, meanwhile, leveled criticism at San Francisco.

“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 Center for Immigration Studies, which pushes for tougher immigration laws.

The subject has come up repeatedly in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, although usually tied to requests to hold a violator for ICE officials. Santa Clara County will do it in the case of serious offenders, but will not honor a request to keep a person behind bars after their time is served for lesser crimes such as DUIs or minor drug offenses.

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern did away with 48-hour immigration holds a year ago, but last month he decided to cooperate with formal requests from ICE for advance notice of when inmates with violent criminal pasts suspected of being in the country illegally are to be released from county jail. The agents can then show up outside the jail and immediately take them into federal custody, Ahern said.

“We believe in the policy because we are trying to prevent the type of tragedy that happened in San Francisco,” he said.

Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen said what happened in San Francisco was “clearly a communication failure.”

“That situation was definitely an eye-opener,” she said.

Sanchez has a rap sheet that stretches back to 1991 with numerous felony heroin-related convictions as well as an arrest for assault in Arizona in 1997.

While it was not clear whether that would raise Sanchez to a “violent offender” status, Kice said his predilection toward crime showed that he presented a threat to the public that warranted notification. She said ICE has been in dialogues with agencies all around the nation regarding advance notification of a potentially troublesome immigrant’s release.

“We want to underscore to our law enforcement colleagues that we understand the reticence on the immigration issue,” she said. “But we have a shared goal of making the community a safer place.”

While the shooting catapulted illegal immigration to the forefront of the Republican presidential debate, it likely won’t sink the political prospects of State Attorney General Kamala Harris or local law enforcement officials, said Corey Cook, the former head of the Leo T. McCarthey Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco.

“The reality is that the Bay Area still remains relatively supportive of immigrants,” he said. “For something like that to carry weight at election time it would have to fit a broader narrative about a candidate being soft on crime.”

Over the weekend, presidential hopeful Donald Trump pumped up Sanchez as a poster child for the need for more border control, sending out social media messages including the proclamation that “We need a wall!”

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President David Cortese called Trump’s statements the “desperate political ambitions” of a racist. He added that the county complies with ICE requests for information when someone is getting out, but said it’s been his experience that the feds rarely do anything about it when told.

“They literally have a huge problem showing up,” Cortese said.

Kice disputed the statement, and said ICE has a significant presence in the Bay Area that negates the need for hold requests.

“If we were being notified that someone is being released, we’d be able to make regular transport runs to jails,” she said. “Give us some lead time and we’ll be standing on the jailhouse steps.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.


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