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San Francisco’s ‘sanctuary’ status criticized after slaying

SAN FRANCISCO – The killing of a woman at a sightseeing pier has brought criticism down on this liberal city because the Mexican man under arrest was in the United States illegally, had been deported five times and was out on the streets after San Francisco officials disregarded a request from immigration authorities to keep him locked up.

San Francisco is one of dozens of cities and counties across the country that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The city goes so far as to promote itself as a “sanctuary” for people in the country illegally.

In a jailhouse interview with a TV station, Francisco Sanchez, the 45-year-old repeat drug offender arrested in the shooting Wednesday of Kathryn Steinle, appeared to confirm that he came to the city because of its status as a sanctuary.

The case has prompted a flurry of criticism from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, politicians and commenters on social media, all of whom portrayed the slaying as a preventable tragedy.

“Most of the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of the San Francisco sheriff, because his department had custody of him and made the choice to let him go without notifying ICE,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which wants tougher immigration enforcement.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, blamed sanctuary practices and the Obama administration, saying: “The tragic murder of Kate Steinle once again underscores the need to end these reckless policies.”

Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement Monday saying that city policy was never intended to protect “repeat, serious and violent felons.” He asked for federal and local agencies to review what happened.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney who is running for U.S. Senate, cautioned that when it comes to immigration, “our policy should not be informed by our collective outrage about one man’s conduct.”

Many other San Francisco politicians stayed quiet as mourners held a late morning vigil at Pier 14 on the downtown waterfront, where the 32-year-old Steinle was gunned down Wednesday, seemingly at random, during an evening stroll with her father and a family friend. She had recently moved to San Francisco.

While many cities have scaled back cooperation with ICE, few have gone as far as San Francisco.

For more than two decades, San Francisco has been considered a sanctuary for people in the U.S. illegally. In 2013, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s office started turning over fewer people under arrest to federal immigration authorities for deportation.

Earlier this year, Sanchez was released from federal prison – where he had served a sentence for re-entering the country after deportation – and turned over to the Sheriff’s Department on an outstanding drug-related warrant. The San Francisco district attorney’s office declined to prosecute what authorities said was a decade-old marijuana possession case and Sanchez was freed on April 15.

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