Does the murder of Kate Steinle spell the end of sanctuary cities in the United States?
Lou Barletta hopes so.
Barletta, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, said Wednesday at a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C., that Congress has the power to end sanctuary cities.
“We control the money, and if we really want to stop sanctuary cities, the law has to be tough, and it has to be meaningful,” Barletta said. “What does it take until we finally stand up and protect the American people?”
Steinle, 32, was shot to death recently in San Francisco. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and was in the country because of the city’s sanctuary policy, is being held in the killing.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had detained Lopez-Sanchez earlier this year, but he was handed over to the city of San Francisco on drug charges. The city then released him without notifying the federal agency because of its sanctuary policy.
To address this, Barletta has introduced the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act, which would halt all federal funds going to the 276 cities that have chosen to ignore Immigration and Customs Enforcement mandates to take custody of criminally convicted illegal immigrants for removal.
“We can yell and scream and get our names in the newspaper with things we want to say all the time,” Barletta said. “But what we really can do is control the purse strings.”
Momentum is building for such a proposal. Such high-profile cases not only raise awareness of the consequences of sanctuary city policies, but also highlight the need for local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials, Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said at the Press Club event.
“It’s not as if this was someone trying to dream up what the worst-case scenario theoretically might be,” Vaughan said. “This has happened.”
Regarding the case involving Steinle, Vaughan highlighted that it was an error in policy, not procedure that lead to her death.
“This was not a mistake. This was a policy that the San Francisco sheriff had to reject all ICE detainers. It may not have been the intent of San Francisco’s sanctuary policy to allow people like this to go back to the street, people like Sanchez, but this was a predictable result of having such a policy that this could happen,” Vaughan said.
Indeed, according to figures released by immigration officials, nearly two-thirds of those released into sanctuary cities rather than returned for deportation have serious criminal records.
Chuck Jenkins knows all about this. Jenkins, the sheriff in Frederick County, Md., said his office has turned over 1,234 criminally convicted illegal immigrants to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement under a county-state-federal partnership begun in 2008.
Jenkins said the people he turned over had been involved in “aggravated assault, rape and sex offenses, assault of law enforcement, domestic violence, drug trafficking, burglary, theft and child abuse.” On top of that, 43 were known transnational gang members and another 30 were suspected of gang activity, he said at the event.
“Those are the types of individuals that are coming across our borders and into our communities,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins rejected the notion that holding criminally convicted illegal immigrants until they can be transferred to federal immigration officials imposes big financial burdens on cities.
“We’ve accomplished this with no drain on local resources or tax dollars,” he said. “Our partnership with ICE has become a course of what we do normally in our detention center. It’s a really easy program. All you have to do is have the will to do it.”