For years, San Francisco law enforcement agencies have refused to work with federal immigration authorities, insisting that cooperation would subvert their efforts to cultivate good relations with the city’s highly diverse immigrant communities. In practice, the city’s sanctuary policy, applied blindly, subverts common sense by allowing dangerous criminals a free pass.

The latest victim of this triumph of doctrine over public safety was Kathryn Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who died July 1, according to police, after being shot in the chest by an illegal immigrant who has been deported five times in the past two decades and has a criminal record in four states reaching back to 1991, including multiple drug convictions.

The accused immigrant, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had served various prison terms before he was transferred to San Francisco in March on an outstanding arrest warrant. Three weeks later, he was released from the city jail after local prosecutors dropped a decade-old drug charge against him. Rather than notifying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which had requested a heads-up so it could deport Lopez-Sanchez, the jail put him on the street without a word.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who runs the jail, defended the release as consistent with the city’s long-standing sanctuary policy. In fact, the policy allows authorities to exercise some discretion, particularly in the case of convicted felons. But in practice, Mirkarimi and other San Francisco officials have treated ICE as the enemy. Had the sheriff’s office simply made a phone call to notify ICE of his scheduled release, he could have been handed over and deported. And Steinle would be alive.

Ostensibly, the city prides itself on protecting undocumented immigrants who it thinks might be unjustly expelled if they are arrested for traffic infractions and other minor violations. In fact, the Obama administration has made clear that its priorities for deportation are serious criminals and recent illegal border-crossers — not law- abiding immigrants with long-standing ties to communities.

That is a reasonable approach. No convicted felon deserves sanctuary in the United States.

That would seem a statement of common sense, but not, apparently, in California.

Now, as a consequence of Steinle’s death, shaken California officials are starting to rethink their intransigence. San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, a Democrat and himself the son of immigrants, is calling for a review of the sanctuary policy, saying it “was never designed to harbor repeat serious offenders.”

What a disgrace that it took a tragedy to prompt that realization.

Editorial by the Washington Post


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