Woman’s Murder Fuels Immigration Debate

     Citing an undocumented immigrant’s arrest for the July 1 murder of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, congressmen repeatedly questioned Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about its policy to give state and local law offices discretion in enforcing immigration laws.
     Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was deported to Mexico five times already and has a felony record, has reportedly said that he lived in San Francisco because he knew of the city’s status as a “sanctuary city.”
     Referring to Lopez-Sanchez as a “career criminal,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked Johnson why Homeland Security lets local and state law enforcement ignore federal detainers that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take custody of certain people in the country illegally.
     For Johnson, however, a blanket policy of making states and cities enforce federal detainers represents “a huge setback” in DHS relations with local law enforcement.
     With the secretary insisting that individuals like Lopez-Sanchez with extensive criminal backgrounds are high priority targets for the department, a heated exchange erupted with Gowdy demanding that the government compel cities to honor federal detainers.
     “When I hear the phrase sanctuary city, as benign sounding as it is, it might have been a sanctuary for that defendant but it sure as hell was not a sanctuary for a young woman walking with her father,” Gowdy said of the 32-year-old Steinle.
     Johnson remarked throughout his testimony about the failure of the Secure Communities program, which gave ICE authority to prosecute people who were found to be in the country illegally after a fingerprint test at the local level and cross reference with a federal database.
     Instead of mandating local policy enforcement, Johnson said he was reaching out to a number of large cities for cooperation on enforcing federal detainers on those who have been arrested while in the country illegally.
     “I do not believe that we should mandate the conduct of state and local law enforcement through federal legislation,” Johnson said during the hearing.
     Of the department’s 49 “top priority” cities, 33 have agreed to work with Homeland Security to manage the release of those in the country illegally and enforce federal detainers on those convicted of serious crimes while in the states, Johnson testified.
     Noting that five high-priority cities remain unwilling to help federal law enforcement, Republican lawmakers on the committee urged the secretary to make enforcement of federal law mandatory.
     Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., questioned if the government would be as indifferent if municipalities opted out of civil-rights legislation in the same way they disregarded immigration laws.
     Johnson emphasized that cooperation is key. “In my judgment and in the judgment of a lot of other border security immigration enforcement experts, the way to most effectively work with these jurisdictions, again is a cooperative one, not by hitting them over the head with federal legislation that that would engender a lot more litigation,” he said. “And I believe we’re on a path to do that.”
     “I respect that opinion, I think what you have opened up though is a Pandora’s Box on other things that they don’t want to enforce because of other reasons they’ll come up with,” Collins responded.” And just because this is a political issue for this administration, they’re going to let that go.”
     Johnson pointed to the decrease in border apprehensions as an example of his Department’s success in discouraging illegal immigration.
     Members like Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., meanwhile pointed to data that showed nearly 170,000 people whom the federal government ordered removed from the country are still living free in the United States.
     Democratic lawmakers took the questioning in other directions throughout the hearing.
     Touching on subjects like the Department of Homeland Security’s measures to prevent domestic terrorism from “right-wing” extremist groups, the Democrats also spoke about the possibility of extending federal security funds for black churches to install cameras and the department’s efforts to ensure the safety and security of refugee families from Central America.
     Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., accused his Republican colleagues of politicizing Steinle’s murder. While the committee was quick to bring the immigration hearing together, it was slow in doing the same for the removal of Confederate flags on federal property.
     While most members of the committee left before the end of the three and a half hour hearing, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., stayed behind to represent the minority’s interest on the panel.
     “I really believe that if [Gowdy] and I and the secretary and the men and women wanted to solve the problem, we could solve this problem,” Gutierrez said near the end of the hearing. “And we could save future people from harm. [Lopez-Sanchez] is not an immigrant. Immigrants come here to work hard, sweat and toil we should be warm and receiving. This man is a foreigner who came here to cause damage, and let’s fix our broken immigration system so we can get rid of foreigners who come here to cause damage and harm and welcome the immigrants.”

%d bloggers like this: