Changes since Steinle’s shooting would not have prevented SF from releasing immigrants –

Changes since Steinle’s shooting would not have prevented SF from releasing immigrants


Much has changed immigration policy and policy since April 2015, when San Francisco freed undocumented immigrant José Inés García Zárate less than three months before firing the shot that killed Kate Steinle at a dock in the city.

Since then, San Francisco has softened that law to allow the sheriff to notify federal officials in some cases before releasing an undocumented immigrant. Voters of the city elected a new sheriff, Vicki Hennessy, in part in response to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's refusal to contact federal agents about Garcia Zarate.

Donald Trump, as presidential candidate, took advantage of the incident to request an immigration campaign, and since taking office he has tried to strip the funds of the hundreds of sanctuary cities that restrict or reject cooperation with officials of immigration. The House of Representatives pbaded a bill to expand the government's authority to withhold such financing. It also approved a measure, dubbed "Kate's Law," which would increase convictions for repeated illegal re-entry. Both bills are now in the Senate.

But despite the changes and political pressure, if Garcia Zarate – a Mexican citizen who has been deported five times from the United States – or someone like him would be about to be released today in San Francisco, the office of the Sheriff would still release him without contacting the immigration officers who had asked to be notified.

"The same," Hennessy said when asked what would happen.

Based on García Zárate's record, which included convictions for drugs and illegal re-entry after deportation but without violent crimes, "he still would not have fallen under those provisions" of the San Francisco ordinance that allows the Sheriff deliver it to federal agents, said the sheriff.

Those provisions allow immigration officials to be notified of an imminent release from the local jail if an immigrant is convicted of a felony or violent crime within the previous seven years. But San Francisco and other sanctuary cities would be bound by their laws to refuse to keep undocumented immigrants beyond their custody period unless immigration officials had a court order.

Immigration officers obtained an order in the Garcia Zarate case, but only after his arrest for the Steinle shooting in July 2015.

Supporters of sanctuary cities argue that they report undocumented immigrants to federal agents, or help enforce immigration law, divide their communities and actually harm law enforcement. They say that such cooperation discourages immigrants from reporting crimes to the police or working with them as witnesses, for fear of deportation.

"These people live, work and send their children to school in the city," said former San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who sponsored the latest changes to the sanctuary ordinance last year. "If they are victims of a crime or witnesses of a crime and they feel comfortable talking to the police, they can help law enforcement to do their job."

Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which generally, along with Trump on immigration issues, responded that sanctuary policies defy federal law and cost lives.

If García Zárate "had not hit the streets, in all likelihood Kate Steinle would be alive," Mehlman said. He said the verdict of the San Francisco jury on Thursday "should be a signal for Congress to act."

Garcia Zarate's lawyers argued that the shooting was an accident, and the jury acquitted him of murder, murder and badault. He condemned him only for being a criminal in possession of a weapon.

Trump responded with tweets calling the verdict a "parody of justice" and renewed his call to "BUILD THE WALL!"

Garcia Zarate is awaiting sentencing on the charge of possession of weapons, but with the more than two years he has already served since his arrest, it is unlikely that he will spend much more time in state custody. Under the arrest warrant of immigration officials, he would then be returned to US custody. UU To face accusations of violating his federal "supervised release" by committing a crime and possessing a weapon, punishable by two more years behind bars. The deportation would follow.

The order is what makes the situation different from what happened in April 2015, when San Francisco let Garcia Zarate go.

He had just completed 46 months in a US prison for illegal re-entry from Mexico. Instead of deporting him, federal officials honored a request from the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and transferred him to local custody to face a local 20-year marijuana charge, which City prosecutors quickly rejected.

Federal officials could have obtained a court order that would have prevented the release of Garcia Zarate, said Bill Hing, professor of immigration law at the University of San Francisco. They would simply have to persuade a US magistrate that there was "probable cause for him to be deportable," he said. "San Francisco can not ignore" a court order.

But Hing said immigration officials rarely bother going to court, and simply ask a local agency to hold someone wanted for possible deportation until it arrives.

as detainees Local compliance with them varies across the country: a recent Texas law, currently blocked by the courts, would require all local governments to respect federal detentions. A California law in force in January would prohibit compliance except for specific categories of offenders.

Retaining prisoners in detention beyond their release date also raises constitutional issues.

Honoring detainees means that authorities detain someone without obtaining a warrant based on probable cause that the person committed a crime. So far, "every court decision has said that they violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition" of illegal seizure, said Saira Hussain, an attorney with Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the Trump administration's detention policies meet constitutional standards, and noted that the administration has promised to intensify immigration enforcement in localities that refuse to comply .

He also ridiculed San Francisco's position that he lacks the authority to keep immigrants like García Zarate in custody so that federal officials can pick them up.

"They try to claim that their hands were tied, when they tied their hands," Mehlman said.

Hing, the USF law professor, said the administration and its supporters are trying to blame sanctuary cities for the government's unwillingness to take legal action, such as obtaining orders. And former San Francisco supervisor David Campos said his supervisors responded sensibly to Steinle's death by approving an ordinance he sponsored that made it a crime to leave an unlocked weapon in a motor vehicle.

The weapon used in the murder had been stolen in San Francisco from a federal forester car from the Bureau of Land Management. The theft has never been resolved. Garcia Zarate's lawyers say he found the gun along the coast and that it was accidentally fired, firing a bullet that bounced off the sidewalk and hit Steinle.

"If there is a failure, one of the responsibilities falls on the officer who left his weapon unattended in his vehicle," said Campos, now the president of the Democratic Party in San Francisco. "This is a problem of gun control as much as an immigration problem."

Bob Egelko is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @egelko

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