WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers criticized federal officials Tuesday for failing to deport an immigrant with multiple felony convictions and an outstanding drug warrant who allegedly went on to murder a woman in San Francisco.
“He had a criminal warrant but was released into the general society to commit a murder. Does that make any sense to you?” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who chairs the Senate’s homeland security committee, demanded to know at a hearing. “Because I’ll tell you it doesn’t make any sense to the American public.”
Philip Miller, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, blamed San Francisco, saying officials there did not honor a federal request, known as a “detainer,” to keep Francisco Sanchez in custody.
Sanchez, who is from Mexico and is in the United States illegally, allegedly shot and killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle last week as she was sightseeing with her father along a popular local pier.
“In that particular case our detainer was not honored,” Miller said. “San Francisco sheriff’s department did not honor our detainer.”
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has defended his office’s decision, saying ICE should have issued an arrest warrant earlier. Miller declined after the hearing to comment on that assertion.
Steinle’s death has offered ammunition to GOP critics of Obama administration policies, including presidential candidate Donald Trump, who’s cited it to justify his claims that many immigrants are criminals.
At the same time it plays into a larger, politically charged immigration debate between federal authorities and local jurisdictions.
Hundreds of local jurisdictions have refused to participate in a disputed federal program, Secure Communities, that allows local authorities to turn over information on immigrants they pick up to the federal government. San Francisco takes it farther than many, even boasting of itself as a “sanctuary city” that protects immigrants.
President Barack Obama announced last fall he was ending the Secure Communities program and replacing it with a new approach meant to address concerns about immigrants being targeted.
But that has sparked more criticism from Republicans who embraced Secure Communities as an effective law enforcement tool and oppose Obama’s attempts to change immigration law through executive actions without Congress’ consent.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., announced Tuesday he would bring Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson before his committee next week to answer questions on the matter.
“Just recently, we were reminded that the Obama administration’s reckless actions, such as permitting sanctuary city policies, lead to tragic and deadly consequences,” Goodlatte said.
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin in Los Angeles and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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