Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Killing raises concern about 'sanctuary cities' like Phila.

If the suspect had been taken into custody by immigration officials, he could have been promptly deported, and Katheryn Steinle might be alive today.

On July 1, in broad daylight, 32-year-old San Francisco resident Katheryn Steinle was walking on the popular Embarcadero waterfront with her father, who was visiting her from Pleasanton, where Katheryn had grown up. Without warning, Katheryn was shot to death, allegedly by Francisco Sanchez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had previously been deported five times from the United States. Sanchez had been convicted of seven felonies in several states while illegally in the United States, four of those felonies related to drug charges.

Sanchez had been detained most recently in San Francisco County jail on March 26, on suspicion of selling marijuana. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued a detainer request to the San Francisco County sheriff to notify ICE if Sanchez was to be released so ICE could take him into custody for deportation.

Despite the detainer request, San Francisco authorities failed to inform ICE of Sanchez's release on April 15 after a decision was made not to pursue the marijuana charge. If Sanchez had been taken into custody by ICE on April 15, he could have been promptly deported, and Katheryn Steinle might be alive today.

But San Francisco has proclaimed itself a "sanctuary city" for illegal aliens, and like Philadelphia, refuses to honor detainer requests from ICE because they are not accompanied by criminal warrants issued by a court. Both cities ignore federal law authorizing ICE to administratively deport illegal aliens like Sanchez without seeking criminal warrants or convictions from federal, state, or local courts.

Freya Horne, legal counsel for the San Francisco County Sheriff's Office, explained that the city and county are sanctuaries for immigrants, and they do not turn over undocumented people — if they don't have active warrants out for them — simply because immigration officials want them to. She told the Contra Costa Times that sheriff's officials had "no legal basis" for holding Sanchez after his case was dismissed.  San Francisco is a "sanctuary city, so we do not hand over people to ICE," added Grace Gatpandan, public information officer for the city police.

On April 16, 2014, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter issued an executive order directing city officials to refuse to honor ICE detainers unless all of four conditions are satisfied: First, the individual must have been convicted of a crime. Second, the criminal conviction must be for a felony. Third, the felony must have involved violence. And fourth, and most importantly, there must be an outstanding judicial warrant for the detention.

As Nicole Kligerman of the New Sanctuary Movement, which pushed the mayor to issue his order, stated at the time, the requirement of a judicial warrant would "in practice ... end all deportation holds." That's because ICE does not obtain judicial warrants to accompany detainers, deportation being an administrative and civil proceeding.

So we have an administration in Washington that, having failed to persuade Congress to enact an amnesty for illegal immigrants, is trying to provide legal status to millions through executive order. We have a border so porous that deportees like Sanchez can repeatedly re-enter, apparently whenever they choose. Unaccompanied minors and women with children enter the United States illegally en masse.

And on those rare occasions when ICE has identified a criminal alien who fits the criteria for deportation, it faces noncooperation from cities like San Francisco — and, presumably, Philadelphia.

Unless Nutter's executive order is withdrawn, Philadelphia will someday experience what San Francisco has experienced because of its failure to honor an ICE detainer and otherwise cooperate in the enforcement of U.S. immigration law.

Jan C. Ting is a professor of law at Temple University's Beasley School of Law.