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Don’t let Trump exploit an accident to foment hate

July 21, 2017

by Francisco Ugarte

No topic is more important to President Donald Trump’s political agenda than immigration. And since July 1, 2015, he has used one case – the tragic death of Kathryn Steinle – as his sounding board to demonize immigrants, call for mass deportation, and demand an end to “sanctuary” policies which limit the role of local and state governments in enforcing immigration laws.

And now, Trump is urging passage of legislation that would turn local police departments into a federal deportation force. Trump regularly invokes the name of Ms. Steinle as justification for this legislation.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is led into court by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi on July 7, 2015, a week after Kathryn Steinle died after being hit by a bullet ricocheting off the concrete. – Photo: Michael Macor, AP

Steinle, a young woman in the prime of her life, tragically died when hit by a ricocheted bullet while walking along San Francisco’s Pier 14, a popular tourist destination. Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who had been released from criminal custody in San Francisco several months earlier, is accused of causing Ms. Steinle’s death.

From the beginning, Trump seized on Lopez Sanchez’s immigration status as the motivating factor that caused Ms. Steinle’s death. To this day, President Trump wants us to believe, against statistical evidence, that increased deportation will protect public safety. It is time to set the record straight.

Trump is urging passage of legislation that would turn local police departments into a federal deportation force.

Let’s start with sanctuary. No public policy has been more misunderstood, thanks to unending xenophopic rants spewed in the right wing media. Contrary to the vitriol, sanctuary policies are public safety tools for law enforcement.

President Trump wants us to believe, against statistical evidence, that increased deportation will protect public safety. It is time to set the record straight.

The goal of a sanctuary policy is to encourage undocumented people to report crimes without fear of deportation. Virtually every head of every major U.S. police department supports disentangling local police from immigration enforcement. The Houston and Dallas police chiefs recently wrote that police inquiry into immigration status “will lead to distrust of police and less cooperation from members of the community.”

While no study has calculated the total number of crimes solved by sanctuary policies – several studies, including one from the Journal of Law and Economics, have found no correlation between public safety and increased deportation. There is little dispute that immigrants commit fewer crimes than citizens. And, the Center of American Progress found that sanctuary jurisdictions are actually safer than those without sanctuary policies.

The goal of a sanctuary policy is to encourage undocumented people to report crimes without fear of deportation.

Trump’s anti-sanctuary argument falls further apart with a closer examination of the case against Mr. Lopez-Sanchez. As evidence unfolds, it is becoming increasingly clear that Ms. Steinle’s death, albeit indescribably tragic, was the result of an unintentional and accidental firearm discharge. Lopez Sanchez found a heavy object wrapped in a T-shirt on Pier 14, and as he unwrapped it, the weapon discharged, he told ABC News.

Few believed him at first – especially when Donald Trump was vilifying him as an “illegal immigrant” murderer – but forensic evidence supports Lopez Sanchez. The gun was pointed at the ground at the time it discharged. The bullet ricocheted off concrete, travelling 100 feet before it struck Ms. Steinle. The gun, a Sig Sauer P239, was stolen from a federal agent who kept it in a backpack under a seat in his car – violating a host of federal safety regulations.

Lopez Sanchez is not accused of stealing the weapon. Lopez Sanchez has no prior convictions for theft or violence. Though he spent considerable time in prison, his lengthy sentences were for immigration violations – namely, illegal reentry after a deportation order – a crime which can carry 20 years of imprisonment.

In other words, President Trump has manipulated a tragic accident to justify ending sanctuary policies and call for mass deportation of the undocumented.

President Trump has manipulated a tragic accident to justify ending sanctuary policies and call for mass deportation of the undocumented.

Edward R. Murrow, a journalist attacked by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, declared, “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason.” Let’s take Murrow’s advice. Sanctuary policies make our communities safer, not more dangerous. Let’s not turn Trump’s xenophobic false narratives into public policy.

Sanctuary policies make our communities safer, not more dangerous. Let’s not turn Trump’s xenophobic false narratives into public policy.

Francisco Ugarte is the managing attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Immigrant Defense Unit. He is one of the attorneys representing Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez. Contact him at San Francisco Public Defender, 555 Seventh St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-553-1671 or email him via tamara.aparton@sfgov.org.

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