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The tragic death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant, has conservatives gleefully trying to vilify all immigrants as criminals, and liberal politicians scrambling for cover by trying to roll back hard-fought local sanctuary city protections that keep immigrant families together.
The mainstream media is leaving virtually no stone unturned in trying to turn Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the alleged shooter, into the new Willie Horton even while all facts suggest that the fatal shooting was unintentional, and that sanctuary city policies have little to do with why Juan Lopez was still living in the United States even after being deported five times.
ICE could have deported Juan Carlos while he was in federal custody without any sort of removal proceedings; instead the agency turned him over to San Francisco to senselessly prosecute a 20 year old drug offense.
No one seems to be talking about the fact that the zealous desire to prosecute individuals for decades old low-level drug offenses seems to have played a large part in how the alleged shooter was transferred from federal ICE custody to officials in San Francisco.
News reports indicate that Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez had been deported previously five times. That made it easy to reinstate a previous order of removal and deport him from the United States after he had served his last sentence, and as everyone knows, ICE deports mothers, fathers and children quite easily even when they have a right to stay in the United States. However, instead of removing him to Mexico after 46 months in federal custody, the Bureau of Prisons reportedly turned him over to San Francisco to prosecute him for a 1995 low-level drug offense.
At a time when most jurisdictions are increasingly moving away from prosecuting low-level drug offenses, and even the federal government has indicated a desire to bury the war on drugs, it is mind-boggling that Juan was handed over to San Francisco for a 1995 outstanding charge for marijuana. It comes as no surprise that a local court dismissed the outstanding charge against Sanchez, and he was released from custody.
The shooting seems to lack premeditation.
Juan Lopez does not have a record of violent behavior. At worst, his extensive list of felonies for low-level drug offenses means he seemed to have a problem with drug addiction and abuse. Juan Lopez professes to have found a gun, registered to a federal agent, and accidentally shooting at the victim in this case, probably while he was under the influence. There is absolutely no record of violent crimes, let alone gun-related crimes, in his record. So there is no reason to doubt what he has confessed thus far — that the fatal shooting was an accident.
Why are politicians so bent on using this tragedy as a way to punish all San Franciscans by blowing it out of proportion? It’s easier to vilify and lay blame for a tragedy than find compassion and closure to move forward. If the best case against sanctuary cities and no detainer policies is that people can accidentally find guns on public park benches and fire them just as easily, perhaps those decrying such policies should focus their efforts elsewhere.
Which leads me to my next point: Why is it so easy to find and shoot a gun?
While records are still hazy, we know for a fact that the gun used in the shooting did not belong to Juan Lopez. It is registered to a federal agent with the Bureau of Land Management. How did Juan Lopez manage to get his hands on the gun belonging to a federal agent, and pull the trigger?
If was an accident like he claims, anyone, legally here or not, could have committed it, and it is wholly irrelevant that San Francisco has a sanctuary city policy. Instead of asking why Juan Lopez is still in the country, perhaps we should be asking why it is so easy to own, and fire a gun?
Handing Juan Carlos to ICE without a warrant would have exposed San Francisco to civil liabilities
A federal government request to detain an individual is not a judicial warrant, and carries no mandatory legal authority. Federal judges have actually found such ICE detainers to be unconstitutional. San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has stated that he would have given Juan Carlos back to ICE if it had issued a warrant to detain him. The jurisdiction would be liable if it honored a faxed request or phone call to detain Sanchez for longer than necessary, rather than judicial warrant to hold him, so San Francisco was legally obligated to release him.
Given that Juan Carlos had no record of violent crime convictions, his subsequent release and implication in a fatal shooting was hardly foreseeable.
This policy of abiding by the spirit and letter of the law, has little to do with the fact that San Francisco is a sanctuary city where immigrant families can live safely. Many jurisdictions, conservative or liberal, are increasingly afraid to abide by ICE detainers, because it would subject them to lawsuits.
Quite often, when wrongly accused and likened to criminals in the mainstream media, our knee-jerk reaction is to show study after study that says immigrants commit less crimes than our U.S. born counterparts.
Now let me be clear that the numbers do seem to suggest that the number of immigrants and crime rates are inversely related. But this analysis throws incarcerated black men under the bus, rather than question the myriad of ways in which black and brown people are turned into criminals. The share of non-citizens who make up defendants in the federal criminal system has grown disproportionately in the past decade.
Many of the convictions levied against Juan Lopez were for low level drug offenses and illegal re-entry. Criminal convictions for re-entrying the country without authorization to be with our family members, or making a false claim to citizenship in order to provide a home for our children or loitering on public street corners in order to find a job, is turning immigrants into criminals faster than we can proclaim that not all immigrants are not criminals. Moreover, citizenship status is now the most salient factor in determining sentencing outcomes in criminal court. We may not be behind bars at the rates that black men are incarcerated, but we do get punished more harshly than our U.S.-born counterparts by virtue of our immigration status.
Perhaps advocacy efforts and resources should go towards reversing these troubling trends, and questioning how immigration enforcement continues to mine a questionable criminal justice system for people to deport, rather than making anti-black proclamations decrying immigrant criminality, and blowing a tragedy out of proportion in order to score cheap political points.