USA Today editors call for an end to "sanctuary cities"

The case of Kate Steinle, the young woman shot and killed by an illegal immigrant, has prompted a heated debate over immigration policy and so-called “sanctuary cities.” San Francisco set Steinle’s killer free before the murder because of its adoption of “sanctuary city” status. This movement began a few decades ago as a symbolic protest against enforcement of immigration law, but now the real-world consequence of setting repeat offenders loose has finally caught up with one of those cities — not to mention the Steinle family, who had nothing to do with it.

USA Today’s editorial board calls for an end to this dangerous posturing today, at least in San Francisco:

Lopez-Sanchez was in the San Francisco County jail in April and should have been deported yet again. Federal immigration authorities had lodged a “detainer,” seeking to get custody and do just that. All they needed was a call or other contact from the sheriff’s office.

The contact was never made, not because of some ghastly mistake or miscommunication but because of a city ordinance that prohibits police from honoring detainers except in rare cases. And, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, because of a policy by the local sheriff that bars contact with immigration authorities. After a local charge against Lopez-Sanchez was dropped, he was held for three weeks, then put on the street.

On July 1, less than three months later, Steinle, 32, was dead, collateral damage in a long-running feud between the local and federal governments over deportation. …

Sanctuary policies set by cities, counties and states differ from place to place, but San Francisco’s violates all common sense. Protecting a hard-working undocumented immigrant charged with a misdemeanor is one thing. Putting a long-term felon and serial illegal entrant on the street is the antithesis of ensuring public safety.

It’s not as if the city of San Francisco didn’t know Lopez Sanchez was dangerous. He has a 20-year record of felonies involving drugs. The US had deported him five times in the past, a point which the USA Today editors argue “raises serious questions about border security that the current, polarized debate isn’t addressing in a helpful way.” Actually, most Republicans argue that any immigration reform policy has to address border security first, which certainly sounds like it’s right on point.

The editorial gives credit to sanctuary cities who do not process immigration violations on their own but coordinate with ICE when they are about to release an illegal immigrant. That’s nonsensical, though, on its face. All that does is allow cities to pose as “sanctuaries.” It’s almost as convoluted as an HHS accommodation for its contraception mandate with religious organizations, only in the wrong direction. Immigration is a federal jurisdiction, one in which state and local authorities should be expected to cooperate. Had San Francisco done so, one young woman would still be alive today.

The Steinle case provides the worst-case example of how “sanctuary city” policies and their like can end up backfiring on communities, which makes it an attractive case to use for political battles. The Steinle family themselves are not happy about that at all, especially when those who use the case do not do their homework. Her brother singled out Donald Trump, who he said hadn’t bothered to contact any of the Steinles to see whether they agreed with his point of view before using Kate as a political argument:

Steinle’s brother, Brad, said Trump hasn’t contacted his family at all as he uses the 32-year-old woman’s death in his “not rational” campaign.

“Donald Trump talks about Kate Steinle like he knows her. I’ve never heard a word from his campaign manager, never heard a word from him,” he told Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. “It’s disconcerting, and I don’t want to be affiliated with somebody who doesn’t have the common courtesy to reach out and ask about Kate and ask about our political views and what we want.”

Trump claimed he wanted to give the family some space in the wake of the tragedy — tweeting, “I wanted a little time to go by before calling” — yet he slammed President Obama for not picking up the phone immediately.

“I can’t believe that President Obama isn’t able or willing to make just one phone call to the family of Kate Steinle. Come on Pres — MAKE CALL!” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

Initially, though, Brad Steinle was appreciative of the attention Trump drew to his sister’s murder:

A day after his sister’s death, Brad Steinle seemed appreciative of the attention from Trump.

“Thank you for speaking about my sister Kate. She was amazing, loving, and kind. An angel, my Kate,” he tweeted July 4.

Trump failed to make contact with the Steinles after that, which may be the reason why Brad Steinle is unhappy about the continued attention — or perhaps he’s unhappy in the way that Trump has framed the issue.

But then again, no one from the government has reached out to the Steinles, either — at any level:

Tanya J. Bradsher, assistant secretary for DHS public affairs, said Wednesday, though, that after a member of the Steinle family contacted a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, the deputy director of the ICE Field Office in San Francisco “contacted the family member on July 9 and offered condolences and assistance.”

She said, “ICE, the Secretary, and the Department of Homeland Security are prepared to offer the Steinle family further support and assistance upon request.”

The Steinle family, though, has maintained that nobody from the administration has reached out to them, ever since their daughter’s death re-ignited a national debate over so-called sanctuary city policies and immigration enforcement. Murder suspect Francisco Sanchez had been in San Francisco custody but was released in April.

Speaking with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, Kathryn’s brother Brad Steinle said “nobody” from the White House or administration has reached out.

“We have not heard a word,” he said, adding: “I wish somebody would reach out to us.”

But he said much of the blame lies with the city sheriff, who he said also has not contacted him.

None of this would have been necessary had the city of San Francisco and its sheriff had not been so infatuated with its own self-sanctimony over immigration policy. The safety of its citizens took a back seat to its political posturing, and it cost the life of a young woman with a bright future ahead of her in a mindless act of violence. The moral responsibility for that death lies on the heads of all the city officials who put that policy in place and enforced it rather than the law. And it should serve as a lesson to other American cities about the primary mission of their government, which is to serve and protect communities rather than their own political fetishes.