Over 100 immigrant rights’ supporters assembled on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall on Tues., July 14. It was a different kind of political event. There were no banners, no list of demands and no loud passionate speeches.
Not on this day.
Instead, activists held white carnations in their hands and sang ballads of love and compassion in hushed, low tones. It was a time to express their profound collective sadness over the senseless murder on July 6 of thirty-two year old San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle.
Her tragic death in the arms of her father made dramatic headlines across the country and ignited an explosive anti-immigrant firestorm after it was disclosed that the alleged shooter, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was convicted of seven felonies and had continuously reentered the U.S. after being deported five times.
Right-wing pundits had a field day, scoring inflammatory political points after the emotionally charged, horrific incident.
For example, Fox News showman Bill O’Reilly is seeking one million signatures demanding national legislation that would impose a mandatory five-year sentence on anyone who crosses the border after being deported.
O’Reilly is not alone. The stampede calling for harsher immigration controls is bipartisan.
San Francisco’s Democratic mayor, Ed Lee, California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Democratic presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton, all criticized local Sheriff Mirkarimi for not keeping Lopez-Sanchez locked up as requested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
All in all, the wretched murder of an innocent young woman posed a formidable challenge to the genuine, heart-felt convictions of immigrant rights activists.
But, from what I observed, amidst all the finger-pointing and blame being cast about all over town and across the country, the quiet dignity and respectful tones of the messengers standing on those city hall steps made their appeal even more compelling:
“Do not let the deranged actions of one person tar millions of undocumented residents nor dissuade us from upholding constitutional protections and public safety at the same time and for all of us.”
What is Sanctuary
Sanctuary is really just short-hand for due process rights extended to everyone. In fact, the relevant legislation passed in 2013 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is aptly termed the “Due Process for All Ordinance.”
It is a continuation of city policies that began in 1989 extending constitutional protections to all residents just as the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights clearly applies to all those living in the country, even those allegedly here illegally.
Not so very controversial it would seem. But, adhering to ICE “detention requests” as in the case of Lopez-Sanchez, is, indeed, very controversial.
As a matter of fact, around 17,000 of ICE “holds” are ignored by municipalities each year according to government statistics, and, for good reason.
First of all, ICE “detention requests” have no legal standing. They are not “probable cause” warrants issued by a judge allowing searches and seizures.
On the contrary, they are more like administrative notices issued by an ICE agent who checks a box on a detention request form before sending it out to local authorities around the country.
According to numerous constitutional experts, it’s simply not legal for police authorities to hold anyone, regardless of their immigration status, based on a simple request from an ICE agent.
As stipulated by the Fourth Amendment, there are due process rights protecting the individual against the superior power of the state to search and seizure of your person and property.
That is, to hold any person in America against their will, there has to be legal justification subject to judicial review. This is basic.
Founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and University of San Francisco law professor Bill Hing told me, “it’s not that difficult.” Obtaining a warrant “is something all law-enforcement agencies know how to do.”
But ICE prefers to circumvent the legal process in order to engage in massive “round-up sweeps” in communities, schools and workplaces – a policy that has split hundreds of thousands of families apart and sown social chaos and division.
For example, with their record 400,000 deportations in 2011, ICE claims the number is too large to follow cumbersome constitutional guarantees.
Nonetheless, adding credibility to those questioning the constitutionality of warrantless detention requests, the U.S. Supreme Court itself emphasized in 2011 that “[d]etaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns.”
In the last several years, a number of federal courts on both coasts agreed.
As a result of mounting legal challenges to ICE practices, the number of jurisdictions across the nation that have stopped processing ICE “hold” requests now exceeds 300.
In addition to constitutional matters, Prof. Hing raised with me his other grave concerns about the wholesale roundup of residents deemed to be “illegal.”
Hing said fears of ICE “sweeps” drives immigrants underground and “into the shadows.” As a result, their lack of trust for authorities and fear of deportation means they do not report crimes, whether they are a victim or a witness.
Thus, Hing emphasized, public safety for everyone is compromised.
Probably the main reason hundreds of communities in the U.S. instruct their police officers to refrain from inquiring about a person’s immigration status is precisely to encourage the reporting of crime by the millions of undocumented residents who otherwise would fear reprisals.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Sheriff Mirkarmini is still receiving undeserved blistering criticism for the release of Lopez-Sanchez.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this should not be controversial – as stated previously, multiple federal courts have found constitutional defects with ICE’s detainer practices.
And, as Mirkarmini stated, Sanchez’s felony convictions for nonviolent drug offenses and re-entering the country illegally did not “meet the threshold of the local law that would require us” to detain him for federal pick up.
In fact, ICE wanted San Francisco to hold Lopez-Sanchez for a minor marijuana possession charge that was twenty years old. Predictably, the city’s district attorney dropped the case.
Once this happened, there was no legal basis to detain him.
In support of the Sheriff, the ACLU stated that if ICE had presented a judicial order authorizing detention, San Francisco could legally have kept Lopez-Sanchez in custody —and it would have done so, under its policies.
But ICE didn’t do that.
Don’t Tread on Me (Them)
As Prof. Hing said to the immigrant rights activists at city hall, the heart-breaking loss of Ms. Steinle cannot be retrieved but we can seek recovery from the root causes of crime by fighting for more economic support for poorer communities and for more mental health funding.
The latter was a reference to conjecture by some who have observed Lopez-Sanchez’s numerous interviews and public statements since his arrest that he may very well be suffering from a mental illness.
In any case, Hing concluded, “only justice for all will ultimately keep us safe.”