S.F. immigrant advocates call for 'sober' dialogue in wake of killing

Each speaker reiterated an undisputed fact: The fatal shooting of 32-year-old Kate Steinle on San Francisco's Embarcadero is a tragedy.

One by one, immigrants and immigrant rights advocates stepped to the lectern on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday and offered condolences. They spoke of also losing loved ones, and they vowed to "hold up" the Steinle family in their time of pain and grief.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post incorrectly translated a quote from Walda Correa as saying: "We cannot because of what happened to one person change the law in a way that affects thousands." The post also said "Kate's Law" would require five-year prison sentences for anyone caught illegally entering the United States. The measure refers to those who unlawfully re-enter the country after having been removed.

 

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They held white carnations in Steinle's name, offering private prayers as they gathered them in a vase.

Beneath the tone of respect was a plea: that officials in this longtime sanctuary city and across the country dial down the rhetoric on immigration enforcement and engage in "sober" dialogue that "protects all communities."

"I am undocumented," Sandy Valenciano told the gathered crowd. "My earliest memories are of the fear my parents carried whenever they saw a cop car approach."

The core principle of sanctuary, she and others said, is helping immigrants who are here without documents feel safe enough to cooperate with the police, report crimes and step forward as witnesses.

Valenciano immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with her family in 1993,  when she was 4 years old. She now works with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.

"We are keeping the family in our thoughts and prayers," she said, "and we ask that we all ... come together in solidarity to find a solution."

She and others reiterated support for the Due Process for All ordinance, passed unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee in late 2013.

The ordinance restricted cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers -- requests that inmates be held for pickup and possible deportation -- except when an inmate has been held to answer for a violent felony and committed another within the past seven years.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez -- the five-time deportee who has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in the Steinle shooting -- did not fall into that category.

The Sheriff's Department released him from custody in April without honoring a request from ICE that they detain him for pickup. Steinle was shot July 1, allegedly by Lopez-Sanchez, who admitted to accidentally discharging a weapon he said he had found on the ground.

But his name was not mentioned here on Tuesday.

Walda Correa, a Honduran immigrant who was held for deportation in Texas after reporting to police that she had been the victim of domestic violence, said there "aren't words to describe" the pain the Steinle family must be feeling.

But in San Francisco, Correa said she found a sense of trust in the police -- along with legal assistance -- that she fears could be lost.

"We cannot because of the actions of one person change the law in a way that affects thousands," she implored. "We have to remember why we passed laws like the one we did in San Francisco."

A political firestorm erupted after the killing of Steinle, who had taken a job here selling medical devices and was strolling with her father before a planned dinner when she was shot.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump weighed in first, calling Steinle's death "totally preventable" and saying it proved the need for a wall at the Mexican border. Democratic hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton soon joined critics, saying on CNN that San Francisco "made a mistake" and should have accommodated Lopez-Sanchez's deportation.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- a former San Francisco mayor -- also lambasted the city's policy in a letter to the mayor.

“I strongly believe that an undocumented individual, convicted of multiple felonies and with a detainer request from ICE, should not have been released,” she wrote to Lee.

San Francisco's declaration as a sanctuary city dates back to 1989. Many other cities have made similar declarations -- Los Angeles and San Diego among them -- stating to one degree or another that local law enforcement should remain separate from federal civil immigration enforcement in order to reduce fear and encourage cooperation.

The Due Process for All ordinance built on that stance, coming in response to Secure Communities, a federal immigration enforcement program rolled out in 2008. While the program promised to prioritize the deportation of convicted felons, it ensnared many minor offenders as well as those never charged with any crimes.

Correa said she was among them.

As controversy over the program grew, many jurisdictions nationwide limited their cooperation with ICE, and California in 2014 enacted a law to prevent local jurisdictions from honoring ICE "detainers" for minor offenders. The Trust Act, however, would have allowed local jurisdictions to detain Lopez-Sanchez for ICE because of a handful of old drug-related felonies. 

After two federal courts in 2014 deemed the practice of holding inmates beyond their release dates for ICE pickup unconstitutional, however, just about all jurisdictions statewide and many across the country stopped complying altogether.

San Francisco was among them.

Steinle's parents have now weighed in on the immigration debate. The Pleasanton couple appeared with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly on Monday to promote "Kate's Law," which would require five-year prison sentences for all those caught illegally entering the United States.

(Lopez-Sanchez had served three long federal prison sentences for criminal reentry and his most recent conviction kept him in custody for more than five years.)

As criticisms fly, many in San Francisco are standing by their principles.

Bill Ong Hing, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law who specializes in immigration policy, told the crowd that he has two daughters and was deeply affected by Steinle's shooting.

But, he said, "San Francisco is a safer place now because of the Due Process for All ordinance. It's safer because the immigrant community trusts the police department."

Twitter: @leeromney

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:25 p.m.: This post was updated to clarify the statements made by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

This story was first posted at 3:09 p.m.

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