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The crowd that gathered on the steps of City Hall on July 14 was there to pray for Kathryn “Kate” Steinle—the 32-year-old woman killed by an undocumented Mexican national and convicted felon—and to hopefully begin a rational dialogue with those blaming San Francisco’s immigration policies for her death.

“None of us want this tragedy to happen again,” said immigrant rights organizer Kitzia Esteva-Martinez. “And we understand that protecting public safety goes hand in hand with protecting the constitution and protecting immigrant rights.”

Bill Hing, a law professor at USF and founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said his heart sank when he heard the news of the shooting; he has two daughters close to Steinle’s age.

“As hard as it may be for some observers to accept, it wasn’t the San Francisco policy that was at fault here,” he said, explaining that the city’s “Sanctuary City” and “Due Process for All” ordinances were actually designed to make the city safer by fostering trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. “The Due Process Ordinance is about public safety, and San Francisco is a safer place now … Police officials across the country understand that in order to engage in true public safety, you need the trust of the entire community.”

Kathryn Steinle was fatally shot in the chest on July 1 while taking a walk with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco.

National debate
Steinle’s death made national headlines and has fueled various media pundits, journalists, politicians and police agencies in their attacks against San Francisco’s immigration policies.

As the dispute over who was at fault in releasing Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the man accused of killing Steinle, has continued to intensify, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi attempted to defend his department’s position of following the law.

“I find it incredibly sad and incomprehensible that this tragedy is being used as a platform for political gain,” Mirkarimi said at the beginning of the July 10 press conference. “We want to set the record straight.”

The sheriff, however, had little success in doing so. As Mirkarimi, who is up for reelection this November, was grilled by roughly a dozen local, regional and national reporters, he detailed the sheriff’s department’s chronology of events leading to up to the shooting.

Senator Dianne Feinstein blasted Mayor Ed Lee and Mirkarimi for releasing a convicted (though non-violent) felon for whom the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) had made a detainer request. Lee countered with his own statement, calling into question the “common sense” of the sheriff’s department for their lack of communication with other law enforcement agencies.

“The mayor is throwing his own law under the bus, simply trying to walk or run away from the very ordinance he signed into effect,” Mirkarimi said, referring to Lee’s Due Process for All Ordinance.

San Francisco’s “City and County of Refuge” Ordinance (also known as the “Sanctuary Ordinance”), which was established in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2007 by then mayor Gavin Newsom, prohibits city employees from aiding ICE agents in arresting or investigating undocumented immigrants. The Due Process for All Ordinance, which was passed by the board of supervisors and signed into law by Mayor Lee in Oct. 2013, prohibits city and county law enforcement officials from detaining individuals on the basis of a civil immigration detainer after they become eligible for release. The ordinance, however, doesn’t apply to individuals who have previously been convicted of a violent felony within a certain period of time, who are currently charged with a violent felony, or those who may pose a public safety risk.

A history of run-ins with the law
On Dec. 11, 1995, a bench warrant for Lopez-Sanchez’s arrest was issued in San Francisco due to his failure to appear in court on felony drug charges for possession and sale of marijuana; bail was set for $5,000. Mirkarimi said that between 1998 and 2011, Lopez-Sanchez was sentenced to federal custody four times for drug charges and re-entering the United States after being deported. ICE reported that they had deported Lopez-Sanchez five times.

Mirkarimi said that his office received a phone call from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Victorville on March 23, right after Lopez-Sanchez was released from federal custody, which requested confirmation of the outstanding 1995 felony warrant.

The sheriff’s department, following established protocol, was obligated to transport Lopez-Sanchez from federal prison to the county jail on March 26 so he could appear in San Francisco court. Although booked on the 20-year-old bench warrant, there was no active ICE warrant or judicial order, which would have been needed to turn him over to ICE. While ICE did have a request for a detainer, without a warrant, such requests have been deemed unconstitutional by two federal courts when the request is made of a sanctuary city. Mirkarimi pointed out that no such detainer requests have been honored by the city of San Francisco in 2015.

Following his appearance in court on March 27, the district attorney moved to dismiss the 20-year-old charges against Lopez-Sanchez. Between March 27 and April 14, San Francisco sheriff’s deputies communicated back and forth with Victorville Federal Prison and confirmed Lopez-Sanchez’s identity, and that he had completed his federal sentence and that he had no outstanding warrants or judicial orders. In the absence a necessary warrant or judicial order to hold Lopez-Sanchez for deportation proceedings, the San Francisco Sheriff’s department subsequently, and legally, released Lopez-Sanchez on April 15.

“Mr. Lopez-Sanchez met ICE’s highest priority due to previous felony convictions and prior deportations,” Mirkarimi explained to reporters. “However as I contend, and will continue to do so, ICE failed to obtain and provide both a warrant or judicial order for such deportation proceedings.”

The explanation, however, was greeted with a series of hypothetical scenarios and what if’s from reporters:

“Why wasn’t state law used?” “Why was common sense not used in releasing a convicted felon back into the wild?” “Could he have done anything to prevent the death of Kate?” “If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you pick up the phone and call ICE and say this guy is being released?”

“I would go down to their office on Sansome Street and say ‘do your job,’” Mirkarimi replied to the final question. “Because we’ve been telling them [ICE] that for 18 months leading up to this very event.”

The sheriff suggested that ICE may not have the necessary resources and staff to pursue court orders or warrants.

“If that’s true, it’s unfortunate for us to be testing the erosion of the constitution,” he said.

Moving forward
Mirkarimi proposed a series of recommendations to avoid a similar situation in the future. One of those recommendations involved exploring the use of an Administrative Law Judge for judicial oversight in ensuring that the 4th Amendment isn’t violated when dealing with ICE. Another included the possible purging of old warrants, like the one issued in 1995 for Lopez-Sanchez; the city has 12,440 as of July 1. Mirkarimi expressed his desire to seek help from the mayor and the board of supervisors when dealing with conflicts between local, state and federal law, and said he was open to amendments.

Professor Hing believes that another factor has been largely obscured amidst all the finger pointing.

“We … share the blame for what happened,” he said. “Because we are not fighting enough for more substance abuse programs. We’re not fighting enough for mental health programs. We’re not fighting enough to control guns. And that’s where our fault is.”