- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - California’s U.S. senators are reacting to the shooting death of a San Francisco woman at a popular sightseeing pier by saying something is broken with an immigration system that allowed the shooting suspect to be free despite an extensive criminal history and five deportations.

Meanwhile, the two leading contenders to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is retiring next year, have urged restraint.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Boxer talked about potentially needing new federal or state laws to prevent a similar shooting.

Feinstein was particularly critical of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for releasing the suspect: “We should focus on deporting convicted criminals, not setting them loose on our streets,” she said.

But the leading Democratic candidates kept their focus on the suspect himself.

“Our policy should not be informed by our collective outrage about one man’s conduct,” said Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney supportive of the city’s sanctuary policy calling for minimal cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

“I caution against politicizing this tragedy,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who is seeking to be the state’s first Hispanic U.S. senator. “This is a time to grieve, not a time to manipulate a senseless killing to fit a political agenda.”

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said Harris and Sanchez were working to avoid saying something that could hurt them with Hispanics voters, who make up more than a quarter of the state’s electorate.

“The greater danger for them is to appear to be to disrespecting immigrants or siding with those who appear to be disrespecting immigrants,” Pitney said.

The lawmakers and candidates weighed in after prosecutors charged Mexican national Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez with killing Kathryn Steinle on July 1 as she and her father took a walk on Pier 14.

After his arrest last week, Sanchez, 45, told TV news stations he found the gun on the pier under a T-shirt and it accidentally went off.

He had been free because San Francisco authorities ignored a request from federal immigration authorities to hold him until they could take him into custody for deportation proceedings.

Sanchez has a number of drug convictions but no record of violence. He was in the custody of San Francisco authorities on a 20-year-old warrant for a marijuana charge. When prosecutors decided to drop the charge, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said his department had no reason to hold Sanchez for federal authorities because he had no history of violence.

Rep. Sanchez said in an interview Thursday that she didn’t weigh in immediately about San Francisco’s sanctuary system because she’s not familiar with the details of how it worked. But she has been consistent throughout her 19 years in Congress that felons in the United States illegally should be deported. She said she wasn’t thinking about an election, but about her time in Congress when she reacted.

“I’m not looking to shut down the process,” Sanchez said. “I’m looking to say that criminals, felons, those people do not belong in our country.”

David Beltran, a spokesman for Harris, said Thursday that Steinle’s death “demands swift justice and accountability.” He said Harris agrees that what happened in San Francisco between the sheriff’s office and federal authorities remains unclear and should be investigated, and repeated her statement that immigration policy should not be shaped by a collective outrage over the shooting.

In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, Boxer asked “whether state law was followed in this case, and if so, whether the law needs to be strengthened to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor said through an email: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Steinle family. Under the facts as reported, California law vests authority for cases of this kind within the sound discretion of local authority.”

State Sen. Rocky Chavez, one of the two Republican candidates in the Senate race, said the pier shooting points to a need for local communities to work better with state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“To me, this is not an issue of immigration, this is an issue of upholding the laws of the land,” Chavez said.

Another GOP candidate, Tom Del Beccaro, said local governments “just can’t thumb their nose at federal law.”

___

Associated Press staff writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report from Sacramento.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide