Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton, in “Safety about more than securing borders,” gets a lot right, although I do not agree with his view on Prop. 47 – ultimately, I think, the tragic killing of Kathryn Steinle has gotten bogged down in discussions of immigration politics, to its detriment.
The key points made by Marcos Breton include the following:
First, “There is no talking reasonably about anything involving undocumented immigrants when too many people would rather ape Donald Trump and scream about the border.”
Second, “The federal government spends $18 billion per year on immigration enforcement, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute. According to the Pew Research Center, there has been a 50 percent drop of immigrants crossing our border from Mexico since 2009.”
Third, “The levels of Border Patrol agents have surged since 9/11. The border is militarized in many sections, but to completely seal off a 2,000-mile expanse would cost an additional $28 billion per year, according to a study by Bloomberg Government.” To put that in perspective, that is roughly the Department Justice’s annual budget.
Fourth, “The use of this tragic case to stoke the immigration ‘debate’ is preposterous, since neither Republicans nor Democrats would ever spend another $28 billion annually on securing the U.S.-Mexico border. And it’s not a debate. It’s a sideshow that comes along every few years without fail.”
Fifth, “Any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that the suspect in Pier 14 killing, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, shouldn’t have been in this country after being deported five previous times. No one wants people like that – whether documented or undocumented – on our streets.”
For those who want to put this on San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, Mr. Breton cites Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones – “no softie on crime, immigration or anything else.”
And yet, Mr. Breton reports, Sheriff Jones said on Tuesday, “If that guy had come up for release in my jail, I would not have held that guy one minute longer than I had to.”
Mr. Breton notes that, in 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Trust Act, limiting the state’s cooperation on immigration with federal authorities. Governor Brown, Mr. Breton writes, “signed the Trust Act in part because he felt federal authorities were unfairly detaining people during immigration sweeps, and that was making communities distrustful of local police.”
So Sheriff Jones, no lefty-San Francisco law enforcement official, also does not honor detainer requests.
But a bigger point is that, while men like Mr. Sanchez get released every day, there’s a point “we’re missing while screaming about the border.”
Mr. Sanchez’s criminal record centered on drug offenses, along with parole violations and returning to the US after being deported.
Writes Mr. Breton, “Even if Sanchez were not undocumented, that kind of record can mean a-get-out-of-jail card since California voters passed Proposition 47. Californians overwhelmingly supported the idea of clearing jails of ‘nonviolent offenders.’” Mr. Sanchez did not have a violent conviction in his past.
Mr. Breton notes, “More violent men than Sanchez are being turned loose in Sacramento under Prop. 47 every day.”
This gets to the portion of Mr. Breton’s column that I don’t agree with. He notes that frequently, men with violent pasts are let loose due to Prop. 47, based on the fact that convictions on drug charges are automatically reduced in the wake of Prop. 47.
The idea is that if their current sentencing is based on a non-violent drug offense, we may well be releasing people with violent histories on the streets.
Mr. Breton talked to Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy DA Robin Shakely, who said “her agency has turned loose men with violent pasts.” She said, “roughly 1,400 felons had had their cases reduced to misdemeanors in Sacramento as of the end of June. Some have been in and out of prison for years. They aren’t crossing a militarized border to arrive in Sacramento. They are already here. They are on the streets.”
It is an interesting argument – the idea being that people with violent histories, who have served that sentence, should be held on non-violent drug offenses even though they have served their time on the more serious offenses.
For Prop. 47 to work, we are going to have to put our resources into treating drug addiction and mental illness that are the base causes of the more violent incidents. If we do not, Prop. 47 will fail. What concerns me is that many of the people in charge of prosecutors’ offices seem to want Prop. 47 to fail.
In the end, I agree with Mr. Breton’s conclusionary point: “That doesn’t mean that the Sanchez case wasn’t a travesty. Immigration reform should bring harsher sentences that specifically target those who continually return to the U.S. after being deported. But men with scarier records than Sanchez are getting out every day. Does it make you feel safer if they are American citizens?”
But in this politicized climate, these are points that keep escaping people, just as the point made in our published column from the ACLU was lost.
“How could the federal government have handled this differently? If ICE had presented the Sheriff’s Department with a judicial order authorizing detention, San Francisco could legally have kept Lopez-Sanchez in custody temporarily for ICE—and it would have done so, under its policies. But ICE didn’t do that.
“So the question remains: Why did ICE use a detainer form that it knew San Francisco would not enforce — indeed a form that ICE itself has announced it will no longer use? Before policymakers rush to judgment, we need answers on what actually went wrong here.”
In my view, ICE could fix this problem by getting judicial orders that authorize detention. They probably would have to justify the hold, but in the case of Mr. Sanchez, that would have been relatively easy.
So why is ICE refusing to change their policies?
—David M. Greenwald reporting