The Shameless Exploitation of A Tragedy In San Francisco


Crossposted from Medium

Photo Credit: NDLON

Photo Credit: NDLON

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.

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ICE Watch – Terror tactics persist in sanctuary cities – California

The domestic terrorism of ICE continues in our immigrant communities here in the Bay Area. Don’t tell me that these agents are just doing their jobs; so were Nazi officials.

Under the post 9/11 breakup of INS, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the merging of the former INS with Customs and Border Protection (BCBP), if an individual is in the U.S. illegally, the ICE agent, no matter how sorry he or she may feel for that individual, has little to no discretion. “This is in direct contrast to the old days when INS Investigators who worked within the same agency as INS adjudications—all under the umbrella of the old U.S. Department of Justice– and came across heart wrenching situations of would be deportees could turn to their colleagues and attempt to work out an equitable solution.” (

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says agents have arrested more than 900 people in California on immigration violations during a three-week sting targeting people who ignored deportation orders.

The agency said Friday that 495 of the 905 people arrested were targeted in the operation. The other 410 just happened to be on the scene when agents arrived. Northern California accounted for the most arrests, with 441. The Los Angeles area followed with 327 arrests. The San Diego area accounted for the other 137.

ICE has arrested more than 1,600 illegal immigrants in Northern California since Oct. 1, Kice said. Of those, 1,000 had previously been ordered deported and more than 300 had criminal records.

We have students and American citizen children that are victims in these raids.

The Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held hearings this past week concerning “ICE Workplace Raids: Their Impact on U.S. Children, Families, and Communities.” Witnesses explored how immigration enforcement could be improved in order to protect children, most of whom are American citizens.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey opened the hearing with a long list of ICE raids in immigrant communities, highlighting that 12 children arrested at the raids in Postville were children between the ages of 15-17, working at the plant in violation of child labor laws and that as of last Thursday, they were still in detention. (Why is the employer–Agriprocessors–still in business?)

We have 4.7 million children in households where at least one parent is undocumented. 3.1 million of these children are American citizens while many of the rest are our fellow DREAMers.

Karen Mallory, an organizer with Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA, said she was working Wednesday with the wife of one of the men who was arrested in Capitola. Mallory said agents weren’t looking for the woman’s husband, but took him because he was undocumented and living where the wanted man had lived previously. “It makes it hard to be proud to be an American the way we’re taking people out of their homes, away from their families,” Mallory said.

Santa Cruz City Councilman Tony Madrigal, meanwhile, said the raids go against the values of the community. Resolutions have been passed in Santa Cruz and Watsonville opposing immigration raids and directing police to not cooperate with ICE agents. “I’m just concerned that there’s going to be panic again amongst parents, workers, families and children,” said Madrigal, a member of a countywide committee called Stop the Raids. “Our local economy can’t continue to take these kinds of hits.”

Tom Wilson, executive director of the Canal Alliance, labeled the ICE tactics “terrorist” actions. “It’s like an assault,” Wilson said. “These people are terrified.”

Juan Carlos of Canal Alliance in email communication –

Out of 40 warrants, 17 people were taken from their homes in the Canal Neighborhood.Agents from Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched raids of Canal neighborhood homes at 5 am Thursday May 22, 2008, only two days after Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey held a hearing on the impact of immigration enforcement on children. It’s reported that 17 people were taken, including the father of a Bahia Vista student who was due to have cancer surgery today. His young son came in crying to school and said “my daddy was taken and now i won’t see him and he is going to die”

ICE later informed that all but 4 of the detainees were released. That means 13 people did not have to be dragged out of their homes. The detainees being released include the woman who was detained and whose children had to be sent to a neighbor’s house because no one else was home to watch them, and the man who recently had surgery for renal cancer. However, the 4 still detained have final deportation orders.

  • 79 children at Bahia Vista did not go to school
  • 65 children at San Pedro did not go to school
  • 25 children from Venetia Valley did not go to school
  • 53 children at Davidson Middle did not go to school

Bahia Vista Principal Juan Rodriguez saw ICE rounding up people on the children’s route to walk to school. Innocent, legal children witnessed their friends and families being hauled off in unmarked SUV’s. Children are terrified that their parents will be taken and that they too are being watched.

HOWEVER, DOZENS OF YOUTH BECAME HEROES. Youth text messaged friends and families to spread the news while others ran home. News traveled quickly. Many residents kept their doors closed to the intense pounding of ICE officials on their doors, following protocols learned at recent immigration trainings. Some witnesses reported that residents were driven off in SUVs, vans, and station wagons that were unmarked with no license plates. Officers were also seen in civilian clothing, though some did have on ICE/Police jackets. No members of San Rafael police were present however ICE had notified them in advance of the raid. These youth demonstrated courage early in the morning just before they went to school and as one young girl stated. “i would have stayed longer, but i was too scared that my teacher would get me in trouble for being late to school”

Why do our children have to become the armor of the community?

"When ICE agents are terrorizing lawful residents and young children,
there can be no doubt that the dragnet home-raids practice is deeply flawed,"
said Bassina Farbenblum, an attorney at the Seton Hall Center for Social
Justice. "These aren't isolated cases. What happened to the Chavez family and
the other plaintiffs in our case is typical of the government's widespread
home-raids practice, which continues to undermine the rule of law and instill
fear throughout immigrant communities."
Previously, in January 2008, the Center for Social Justice, represented by
Lowenstein Sandler, and the community newspaper Brazilian Voice filed a
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit challenging the government's withholding of
raids-related documents:

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Sanctuary City – A Civil Disobedience on the Right Side of History

In his latest act of civil disobedience, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco is launching a media campaign to let undocumented immigrants in the City know that San Francisco does not support federal raids and promised to roll out a plan to give identification to all ‘illegal immigrants.’ Obviously, this goes against the recent tide of anti-illegal immigrant hysteria and federal immigration laws, which has authorities agitated.

This is not the first time that Mayor Newsom has expressed an interest in civil disobedience. His last act of civil disobedience involved giving marriage licenses to thousands of gay and lesbian couples, which only got disrupted by court orders. At that time, he was blamed for inspiring Republicans to place anti-gay marriage propositions on the 2004 presidential election ballots that led to a higher turnout of Evangelical Christians, and cost John Kerry the election. If the issue of ‘illegal immigration’ takes center stage in the coming elections and costs the Democrats the White House once again, Newsom and the pro-migrant movement would probably be blamed for having the ovaries to do the right thing.

Sanctuary derives from “a sacred place; a holy spot, a place of refuge and protection.” Since churches started giving sanctuary to asylum seekers from Central America in 1981, many colleges and cities also adopted similar policies. Today, granting sanctuary is no longer a religious exercise, but has taken on political significance-it is an act of civil disobedience, recognition that something is wrong with the status quo and that we need to act outside the boundaries of the Law to bring attention to and rectify those wrongs.

The modern-day sanctuary city can be likened to the Underground Railroads. This is when ‘illegal is illegal’ makes no sense – after all, abetting and aiding runaway slaves was illegal, being black and sitting in the front seats in buses was illegal, fighting against the British for independence was illegal-but do not tell us that these were acts of wrongdoing because that would belie and denigrate the existence of this very Nation-State. Do not tell us that upholding the laws of the United States is ALWAYS morally justifiable and the right thing to do, because we know that is not true.

While I can remain neutral on the subject of sanctuary cities, I support the act of civil disobedience. We have never made necessary changes to the unfair and unjust laws of the United States and we have never made progress in the true sense, without acts of civil disobedience. What makes this time any different?

When Gavin Newsom was making his big “gay gamble,” Barrington Wolff, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Davis stated that “This is about not wanting to participate in an injustice. He is betting he will be on the right side of history on this issue.”

Ironic as it is, the ‘Right’ is not always right. I can honestly say that we are also on the right side of history on this issue.

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