Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (Getty Images)
By Joel Gehrke
October 7, 2015.
Sanctuary city policies allow about 30 criminal immigrants per day to evade federal agents and deportation, according to senior congressional Republicans who want the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on the jurisdictions.
In a letter Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) reminded Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson of Kathryn Steinle, the San Francisco woman murdered in July by a man who had been shielded from deportation by local authorities.
“It has been 97 days since Kate Steinle was murdered by an illegal immigrant while innocently walking along a San Francisco pier,” the lawmakers wrote. “In that time, sanctuary policies that allowed this murder to happen have not changed and the American public is still at risk.”
Steinle’s death shook Democrats’ consensus about the propriety of sanctuary cities, but did not change it. In their letter, Grassley and Goodlatte faulted Johnson for failing to force local authorities to end the practice. They also argued that such crimes undermine President Obama’s contention that his immigration policies are designed to effect the deportation of dangerous criminals.
The Republicans noted that, in 2014, state or local officials ignored 12,000 “detainers” — DHS letters notifying law-enforcement agencies that they have in their custody an immigrant federal officials regard as a deportation priority. “If last year’s number of declined detainers are [sic] any indication, there have been as many as 3,000 detainers ignored since Kate Steinle’s murder. On average, that is over thirty per day,” they wrote. “It is time to make it clear to sanctuary jurisdictions that people in the country illegally do not deserve safe harbor. For every day that passes, the potential for another tragedy only increases.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) backed Grassley’s stance in the days following Steinle’s death, by putting the blame on local officials who released the shooter without notifying federal officials. “We should focus on deporting convicted criminals, not setting them loose on our streets,” she said. “As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I am looking at whether additional federal legislation may be necessary.”
But immigration activists and other Democrats faulted her for that stance. “What you have is Feinstein giving a knee-jerk reaction . . . to the demands of people who don’t want immigration reform,” Representative Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) told Politico.
Goodlatte and Grassley reminded Johnson of his own assessment that it is “not acceptable [for local authorities] to have no policy of cooperation with immigration enforcement” and suggested that the Priority Enforcement Program, which was unveiled in June pursuant to Obama’s recent executive orders on immigration, would only exacerbate such problems. “It allows criminal aliens who have evaded conviction to be released to commit additional crimes,” they wrote. “We encourage you to reconsider this policy and make it clear that sanctuary policies will no longer be tolerated.”