The murder of Kathryn Steinle at the hands of an undocumented man in San Francisco reflects the communication problems, the erred decisions and the obsolescence of the current immigration system. The easy answer – to avoid dealing with the underlying problem – is to eliminate all sanctuary cities, but this reasoning fails to understand why they were created in the first place.
Suspect Juan Francisco López-Sánchez, who was first detained for an old drug charge, had a long criminal history that would have called for him to be handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. However, after some legal consultation, San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi decided not to do so. The facts have proven that this was a crass mistake.
It could be argued that the crime would not have happened if López-Sánchez would have been deported the same way you could say that, if immigration reform had been approved by now, the rules would be clear for local authorities and this man would not have been let go. The local and immigration authorities’ discretionary use of authority has led to the release of felons who became repeat offenders, albeit less frequently than the nation’s average. This reflects the results of several other studies that show that immigrants tend to commit less crime than people born here.
Still, all of this falls on deaf ears who only understand murders committed by undocumented as a confirmation of a stereotype, and who point at these cases to justify that Congress should take strong action eliminate sanctuary cities. Moreover, a measure currently in the House of Representatives seeks to cut Homeland Security funding allocated for these cities.
These critics do not listen to the police departments in those cities either, who stress the need to establish a relationship of trust with immigrant communities so that people are willing to cooperate in crime investigations without fear of deportation. This legislative blindness provide for public safety measures that sound good on paper but turn out to be dangerous in real life.
The easy route is to panic over the San Francisco murder. The hard route is to acknowledge that immigration reform could have prevented a crime such as this one, without the need for sanctuaries or executive orders. However, to understand that, a leadership is needed that is currently nonexistent in Congress.