EDITORIAL: Sanctuary for the violent is just plain wrong

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July 14–The heartbreaking story of Kathryn Steinle’s death by gunfire in San Francisco at the hands of a felon in this country illegally has revived an intense debate over deportation policies. San Francisco’s is among the most lenient in the nation — and so is Santa Clara County’s.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Sheriff Laurie Smith and Supervisors Joe Simitian and Mike Wasserman have fought to change the rules so that Santa Clara County would cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep violent criminals from returning to local communities. But questions of legality and opposition by immigrant rights advocates stood in the way.

Now Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese is on record favoring notification of ICE before the county releases prisoners who are here illegally and who are violent or otherwise pose a threat to the public. That should create a board majority to adopt the policy — a positive change to protect citizens and noncitizens alike from predators.

Cortese said he will ask the county’s Bail and Release Working group to report to the board in August with a policy recommendation. The notification rule should put the county on the right side of this issue: not cooperating in deporting minor offenders but reporting people who are a danger to the community and have no legal right to be here.

It is no panacea; Steinle’s slayer had been deported five times before San Francisco released him from custody. It’s still the right thing to do.

In Santa Clara County, the issue of immigration holds surfaced in 2011, when nearly 400 inmates — from minor offenders to violent predators — were sitting in county jail awaiting ICE action. The cost was outrageous, and the legality of holding people beyond their sentences was questioned. Something had to be done. But the county ended up with a policy that, in effect, was the same as San Francisco’s: Neither notifies ICE of pending releases, and neither holds inmates beyond their sentences at ICE’s request unless agents find out about the person independently and get a court order.

Simply notifying ICE when bad guys are about to be released always was an option for Santa Clara County. The effect will be the same from ICE’s perspective — time to come get violators. In March, the Department of Homeland Securityshifted its own policy from requesting holds to asking for notification.

Agreeing to this will be an ideological shift for the board majority, which was persuaded by immigrant advocates several years ago to not help ICE deport anyone, regardless of crimes. Cortese now says the legality of holding people beyond their sentences was the whole issue, and notification is fine with him.

San Jose and Santa Clara County police agencies for decades have distanced themselves from immigration enforcement in the interest of public safety. If residents who are here illegally or have friends or family in that status fear the local police, they won’t report crime or testify against criminals. The safety of the whole community would be compromised.

But some public officials, including DA Rosen, Sheriff Smith and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, have argued for turning over dangerous criminals. They say their constituents, with or without visas, tell them they don’t want violent predators in their midst.

Supervisor Simitian tried in 2013 to persuade the board to at least hold the “worst of the worst” offenders for ICE, but only Wasserman joined him. Cortese, Cindy Chavez and Ken Yeager voted to stick with the current policy.

We hope that now, with Cortese’s leadership, the board will pass a fair notification policy. You never know. Someday, it might save the life of a Kathryn Steinle.


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