Protesters gathered in San Francisco Tuesday to identify solutions in response to anti-immigration sentiments spurred by the shooting death of a woman on July 1 on a San Francisco pier allegedly by an undocumented immigrant from Mexico with a history of felony convictions and who had been deported five times after repeatedly entering the U.S. illegally.
Immigration rights activists gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall today holding flowers and singing songs in the memory of 32-year-old San Francisco resident and Pleasanton native Kathryn “Kate” Steinle, who was fatally shot while walking on Pier 14 near the San Francisco Ferry Building with family members in broad daylight.
Within an hour of the shooting police had arrested Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez in connection with the homicide.
Immigrant rights activists today said that Lopez-Sanchez does not represent U.S. immigrants, but instead represents someone with potential mental health issues who did not receive the help he needed.
Lopez-Sanchez was convicted of seven prior felonies, including four involving narcotics, according to immigration officials.
Due to San Francisco’s 1989 “sanctuary city” policy that prohibits law enforcement officials from detaining an individual on the basis of an immigration detainer when they would otherwise be eligible for release from custody, Lopez-Sanchez was not handed over to immigration officials for what would have been his sixth deportation. Instead he was released onto the streets of San Francisco.
Less than two months after his release from San Francisco County Jail, Lopez-Sanchez was arrested in connection with Steinle’s death.
Following the homicide, a national debate was spurred over which agency or individual was responsible for his release. Various agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were blamed for failing to obtain a court order placing Lopez-Sanchez in custody.
Others have blamed San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who maintains that he was simply following city laws when he decided not to hand Lopez-Sanchez over to immigration authorities.
Others, such as Fox News’ conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly, are blaming the country’s lax border control for Steinle’s death.
O’Reilly is also calling for the creation of “Kate’s Law,” which he described as a mandatory five-year sentence in a federal penitentiary upon conviction of undocumented immigrants who are deported and then return to the U.S.
O’Reilly has begun a petition urging Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to pass “Kate’s Law.” Steinle’s parents have also spoken in favor of such a law.
At today’s rally, activists expressed concern that Steinle’s death was the result of a failure to provide those in need with access to substance abuse programs and mental health assistance, as well as lax gun control laws.
Numerous activists said they felt the homicide represents the presence of violent crime in the community and highlights a larger issue that has little to do with immigration.
Bill Ong Hick, a law professor at the University of San Francisco and the founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said that he doesn’t believe the city’s policies were at fault.
In fact, Hick praised the sanctuary city law and the due process law, explaining that those laws were designed to address public safety and help undocumented immigrants trust law enforcement officials.
Hick said having mandatory sentences “doesn’t accomplish anything” and that the law proposed by O’Reilly will not solve the immigration issue:
“We do share the blame for what happened because we are not fighting enough.”
Hick added that he feels the public should demand more substance abuse programs and stricter gun control laws.
San Francisco supervisors David Campos and John Avalos were among the elected officials who attended the rally, where many people spoke about the importance of separating the crime from immigration and the behavior of the accused criminal from the behavior of all immigrants.
According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants are actually less likely to be criminals than native-born persons.
As the number of foreign-born persons in the U.S. grew from 1990 to 2013, the U.S. violent crime rate during that time was cut in half, according to the council.