The chilling murder of a San Francisco woman is roiling the debate among 2016 presidential candidates over illegal immigration and so-called “sanctuary cities” that provide havens for undocumented immigrants.
Last week, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot while out for a stroll in San Francisco. Police have charged a man in the shooting most recently known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported multiple times after being convicted of several different felonies.
The issue highlights split between the Republican and Democratic candidates over so-called “sanctuary cities,” where some undocumented immigrants who have committed low-level crimes can be sheltered from deportation.
Republican presidential candidates said the killing was stoked by loose immigration policies. Real-estate mogul Donald Trump, in particular, has made it a focus this week. On Friday in Los Angeles, he met with families of individuals who had been killed by undocumented immigrants. And on Saturday, he’s set to give an address in Phoenix on “illegal immigration and numerous other topics,” according to his campaign.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) called for an elimination of federal funding to sanctuary cities and a fence that would span the US-Mexico border.
“She’s dead because we have not just done the simplest most fundamental thing that a country is supposed to do which is to secure our borders,” Huckabee said this week.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), meanwhile, introduced legislation to block so-called sanctuary cities from receiving federal law-enforcement grants. He said sanctuary cities, which do not use municipal funds or resources to further federal immigration laws, were basically “laughing at” federal immigration laws.
“Our nation now has whole cities and states who stand up and willingly defy federal immigration laws in order to protect illegal immigrants who have broken our nation’s laws. This must end and it must end now,” Paul said.
Lopez-Sanchez was picked up for another crime in April, but was released under San Francisco’s status as a “sanctuary city.”
San Francisco is one of dozens of cities, including New York and Los Angeles, that prevent law enforcement from arresting undocumented immigrants unless they are suspected of committing other criminal offenses. These cities also allow undocumented immigrants to serve jail time or pay fines when they are picked up for low-level crimes, instead of being deported.
The murder has spurred conflicted responses from Democratic candidates, who typically support sanctuary cities. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, in particular, had trouble finding her footing on the issue.
In a CNN interview on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton criticised San Francisco for failing to notify federal immigration officials before releasing Lopez.
“What should be done is any city should listen to the Department of Homeland Security, which as I understand it, urged them to deport this man again after he got out of prison another time,” Clinton said.
“The city made a mistake not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported,” she added.
But in a statement the next day, the former Secretary of State’s campaign made it clear that she supported sanctuary cities.
“Hillary Clinton believes that sanctuary cities can help further public safety, and she has defended those policies going back years,” campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said, according to NBC.
“She believes that we need a system where people like this don’t fall through the cracks and that is why she continues to fight for comprehensive immigration reform,” Hinojosa added.
On Friday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) took a shot at Clinton for blaming San Francisco for Steinle’s death, but also criticised Congress for failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform that could’ve gotten rid of sanctuary cities altogether.
“It’s lamentable that the senseless and tragic act of violence that occurred in San Francisco is prompting a rush to judgement and finger pointing: we can and should do better,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Local governments should not be blamed for the federal government’s inability to fix our broken immigration system.”
If Republicans continue to tack the sanctuary cities policy to immigration reform, that could prove difficult for Democratic presidential candidates like Clinton and O’Malley, who have highlighted immigration reform as key parts of their platforms.
Though comprehensive immigration reform is relatively popular, little of that support is shared for sanctuary cities. According to a Rasmussen poll released on Friday, 62% of Americans want the Justice Department to “take action” against sanctuary cities. Most voters also want to cut off federal funding to these cities as well.
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