What Went Wrong with the Case of Francisco Lopez-Sanchez

ICE-raidBy Jennie Pasquarella & Kate Desormeau

The tragic shooting of Kate Steinle in San Francisco has focused national attention on why her accused assailant, Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was released from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s custody in April and not deported. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others have rushed to cast blame on the sheriff’s department for Ms. Steinle’s death. But this horrible and apparently random act of violence shouldn’t be used to push a political agenda.

Did something go wrong here? Yes. But San Francisco’s policies are not to blame for this tragedy.

Although we don’t yet have all the facts, we do know that this case was unusual. Until late March, Lopez-Sanchez was in federal custody, serving a prison sentence that normally would have ended with deportation. His sentence apparently should have ended in July 2013, but for reasons we don’t yet understand, ICE did not deport him — then or at any time over the next year and 8 months, when Lopez-Sanchez inexplicably remained in federal custody. Finally, in March 2015, the federal Bureau of Prisons sent him to San Francisco based on a 20-year-old warrant for a marijuana charge — a charge that San Francisco predictably decided not to pursue because it was a low-level offense from two decades ago.

ICE now blames San Francisco for failing to notify ICE when that charge was dropped. But the sheriff says that what ICE sent was an immigration “detainer” — a form that asks for extended detention, which he could not enforce because it was not accompanied by a warrant. Under a 2013 city ordinance and a 2015 sheriff’s policy, the sheriff’s department does not imprison people based on ICE detainers alone. Rather, like many other jurisdictions around the country, the sheriff’s department requires a judicial warrant before it will imprison someone at ICE’s request. This is not a controversial position — multiple federal courts have found constitutional defects with ICE’s detainer practices. When Lopez-Sanchez’s time in local custody was done, there was no legal basis for San Francisco to hold him.

Also relevant here is a more recent 2015 sheriff’s policy, which declines to share certain information with ICE. Even ICE recognizes that localities are not required to respond to notification requests. And there are good reasons why San Francisco decided to keep its distance from ICE: The sheriff’s department depends on the trust of the whole community, including immigrants, in order to solve crimes and keep people safe. Drawing a bright line between the sheriff’s department and federal immigration authorities is critical to maintaining that trust. At any rate, if ICE had only wanted advance notice so it could reassume custody of Lopez-Sanchez when his local charge was resolved, an outdated, legally discredited ICE detainer form was the wrong tool to use.

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.

Jennie Pasquarella is with ACLU of Southern California. Kate Desormeau works on the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. zaqzaq

    We get another ACLU propaganda piece which totally ignores the fact that it was the San Francisco Sheriffs office that requested that Lopez-Sanchez be turned over to them based on the 20 year old warrant that they likely knew would result in a dismissal.  ICE respected their request and turned him over.  The issue is that the ICE detainer is justification to hold Sanchez and for policy reasons they decided not to follow.  Even Barbara Boxer has criticized the failure to respect the ICE detainer in this case.  One more example of David publishing more ACLU drivel and why the Vanguard is a leftist blog.

    1. David Greenwald

      I was waiting to opine to see what direction people would take in response to the article.

      What I’d like to hear is your reaction to the last two paragraphs in the piece which lay out the alternative path that ICE could have taken which would have reintroduced judicial oversight into the detainer policy.

      1. zaqzaq

        The starting point has Sanchez in federal custody pending deportation until the SF Sheriff’s Office (SFSO) requests that he be turned over on a 20 year old warrant.   The feds comply with the request although with the supremacy clause I suspect they could ignore the request.  We do not know if there is any communication between the DA and SFSO before Sanchez is turned over to the SFSO.  One could make the argument that the SFSO knew that the case would be dismissed due to the age of the warrant and that under current policies this would result in Sanchez being released into the community.  ICE places a detainer on Sanchez with the SFSO.  Once in SFSO custody the DA dismisses the charges against Sanchez and then SFSO releases him ignoring the ICE detainer consistent with their sanctuary city policy.  Had either the SFSO complied with the legal ICE detainer or had ICE obtained a warrant via a judge ICE would have picked Sanchez up and the murder would not have occurred.  This is the crux of the issue for the blame game that followed.

        The first paragraph that you refer to is below.

        “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.”

        It comes down to a policy issue and for me a resource issue.  ICE policy and procedures should be standardized which is what occurred here.  They issue the legal detainer and from my perspective the detainer should be complied with.  Getting a warrant requires the use of additional resources (writing the warrant and supporting declaration and a judge to review the warrant) which wastes taxpayers money when it is not required.  Counties with sanctuary city policies where the Sheriff ignores ICE detainers should lose all federal funds until they comply with the legal detainers.  That is my solution.  No federal funds for housing, schools , … .

        The second paragraph that you refer to is below.

        “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.”

        This is a red herring concerning the “form” that ICE no longer uses.  They have new detainer forms, not a judicial review policy, that are also detainers which would also be ignored by the SFSO.

        The bottom line is whether you believe that a sheriffs office should or must comply with ICE concerning inmates in their custody.  I believe that they should and failure to do so is bad policy.  I also do not believe that we want the Davis Police Department to be conducting immigration investigations as part of their policing but once an illegal alien is in the custody of a jail the local sheriff should cooperate with ICE.


        1. David Greenwald

          I disagree with this analysis. The key point the ACLU makes here is that the detainer policy is not followed and will not be followed. ICE knows this, yet continues to do it. The proposal from the ACLU, which makes a lot of sense, is to get a judicial order which the local law enforcement has no choice but to follow. The key difference is that they would have to make a showing and could not order a blanket retainer.

          There is a secondary point that no one seems to want to acknowledge here – there was nothing in his background that indicated he was nearly the threat that he turned out to be. It is unfortunate, but not all that different from thousands of other situations where a person ends up serving their time and are released, only to commit a far worse offense.

        2. zaqzaq

          Under current law obtaining a judicial order for every illegal immigrant in a sanctuary city would be a huge wast of resources when they already have a legal method.  The feds should flex their muscles and require local agencies to comply with the ICE detainers.  It looks like there may be a movement in that direction in Congress.

  2. Tia Will

    I don’t see why this case should be used as a cause to point fingers. It would seem to me that this is an important systems issue that should be carefully examined  collaboratively by both sides not with regard to finding fault with the other side but rather with what what communications improvements from both sides would prevent such an error from occurring. This constant bickering between agencies and between the “left” vs the “right” is a major factor in virtually ensuring that such events will continue to occur. If all of this energy were spent in collaborative problem solving rather than turf protection, we would be much more likely to prevent such horrible events from occurring in the first place.

  3. PhilColeman

    Clarification please, if anybody is in possession of facts. I’m full-up on conjecture and opinion.

    Did the SF Sheriff’s Department specifically ask that the 20-year-old warrant be served? An arrest warrant, on its face, is a command to arrest. But was there a recent direct oral or written communication to the Feds asking that the warrant be served and the defendant be delivered to the San Francisco jurisdiction?

    1. David Greenwald

      As I understand it, he was in custody, SFSD requested his transfer to SF to face the 20 year old charges and then disposed of the charges and released him.

    2. hpierce

      I agree as to the need for facts.  One fact I’d be curious about is what is the statute of limitations for the crime asserted in the warrant?

      I believe it is a “fact” that someone is dead, who shouldn’t be, and I also believe it is a fact that scum-balls (including the apparent front-runner for the Republic nomination for President), are milking this for their own aspirations.

      Does anyone remember the “Willie Horton” fiasco?

      My opinion is that the perpetrator should be deported… to North Korea, Antarctica, or Pluto.

        1. hpierce

          OK, you believe he should have food, shelter, medical, dental, etc. for the term of his sentence.  Paid for by citizens.  If he serves a 7 year term, should that make him eligible for citizenship?  Respectfully, I disagree.

        2. Davis Progressive

          he’s looking at a first degree murder sentence.  unless you believe he will escape that charge, he’s looking at a mandatory life sentence.

        3. hpierce

          DP…. missed the basis for a first degree murder charge, much less conviction… deliberate intent? pre-meditation? Can you point me to a source for the charges?  Would appreciate it.

      1. PhilColeman

        Trying to keep this discussion topic on “process,” it is unusual for a 20-year-old unserved warrant to remain active in the system. Have to say though, they more one looks at this event (in terms of process), the more it smells.

        The warrant was vaguely described as marijuana-related, but no clarification on whether it was a felony or misdemeanor. The mere fact it was still active in file, suggests it was a felony warrant. In every jurisdiction I’m familiar with, all criminal warrants are recalled after a policy-defined period. Except for capital offenses, even felony warrants are eventually recalled, the witnesses are all dead!

        The codified statute of limitations provision stops when a criminal complaint is filed.

        1. Davis Progressive

          there is something strange going on.  the sfso has been a problem for years, not sure if that’s what’s strange but i agree there is something.

  4. Tia Will


    My opinion is that the perpetrator should be deported… to North Korea, Antarctica, or Pluto.”

    Perpetrator of which…. the shooting, using the shooting for their own aspirations… or both ?

        1. hpierce

          Actually, BP, Trump moved it in the Trump direction. He champions the anguish of the family, but apparently has had no contact with them.  He is a ‘clown’.  If he is the Republican nominee, Ms Clinton will be the next president.  I actually don’t want to see that. Many reasons, but gender is not one of them.

          Gotta get your knee evaluated.

      1. Tia Will


        “Are you referring to all the Democrat politicians …..”

        It is the actions that should be judged, not the party or politics of the actors.

    1. hpierce

      Technically, Trump is a US citizen, so probably can’t deport him, although I might support legislation to change that.

      Yeah, meant the guy who has repeatedly shown he doesn’t want to play within the rules, and claims to have ‘found’ a handgun, wrapped in a shirt, on a public pier, and had it ‘accidentally’ discharge, ‘miraculously’ not only having a bullet hit someone, but kill them in the prime of life.  I do not use his name, as I truly believe he is not ‘worth it’.  I also truly believe he is lying about the circumstances of the death of the young woman.

      As to Trump, perhaps a court can force him to give up his toupee.  We’d be doing the world a favor.

      1. tribeUSA

        hp–no-no: like many men everywhere with thinning hair; I am indebted to Donald Trump for his comb-over style. It helps me feel better about my own camoflauging efforts–after all, if its good enough for Trump I figure it should be good enough for me (my little bit of combover is much less radical; for now at least). Thank you Mr. Trump!

        I personally find Trumps blunt style to be far preferable to the mealy-mouthed slag voiced by other candidates–for his positions on pro-strong-border enforcement and opposition to TPP and TAFTA (aka SHAFTA) alone, I would vote for Trump over any of the other sad/pathetic choices of candidate on the republocrat/democan teams.

  5. Davis Progressive

    How could the federal government have handled this differently? If ICE had presented the Sheriff’s Department with a  <em>judicial </em>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<em>itself </em>has<a href=”https://www.ice.gov/pep” rel=”nofollow”>announced</a>it will no longer use? Before policymakers rush to judgment, we need answers on what actually went wrong here.

    this is the most interesting portion of the piece which i think is what david was referring to above.  the argument seems to be that ice had other alternatives in this and other cases but continues to ignore them.

    when an individual is arrested for a crime – they have to be arraigned within three days, they have the right to a preliminary hearing to determine probably causes within ten, and then a trial within sixty.  usually there are delays and time waivers, but that process is in place to prevent indefinite detentions.

    i think the argument here is that ice’s detainer policy comes closer to indefinite detention without due process.  by forcing it to a judge, they would have to establish cause.  that’s apparently what ice wants to avoid even though they know they won’t get detainers.

  6. PhilColeman

    We have several units of city, county, and federal government involved in the act of arrest and release of this murder defendant. In the media efforts to trace the series of events leading up to the murder, the involved (or suspected to be involved) government entities and leadership are relating various accounts of their specific involvement. The published accounts conflict with the stories from representatives of other agencies, and appear to contradict some earlier remarks.

    Remember the famous Thomas Nast political cartoon of the Tweed Ring assigning blame? It’s fair to say that these same agencies are in duck-and-cover mode and trying desperately to avoid public wrath.

    Following the laudable ACLU column plea to not politicize this tragedy, we can still demand a full probe on the apparent procedural and administrative errors, omissions, screw-ups, and whatever else a full investigative probe may reveal. I doubt it will ever happen because it would really upset some several political apple carts, but the creation of a blue-ribbon panel of investigators with subpoena power would doubtless make the loss of that woman’s life ultimately lead to something better in the current decrepit San Francisco criminal justice system. The San Francisco DA would be the ideal “point-man,” provided, of course, that office is not also complicit.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      There is also a move to pass Kate’s Law, which requires a mandatory 5-year prison term for any illegal immigrant who has been convicted of a felony, who sneaks back into the country illegally a second time.

      It is also interesting that the Obama White House has had a pattern of contacting the families of young men, often criminals who die in police confrontations, to offer condolences and support. The WH also sends numerous emissaries to said funerals. No one from the White House has contacted the Steinle family.

      Meanwhile, President Obama is releasing convicted drug felons from prison at a record rate, and he recently wrote 46 letters to current inmates.

      1. Davis Progressive

        “President Obama is releasing convicted drug felons from prison at a record rate, and he recently wrote 46 letters to current inmates.”

        that’s a good thing, federal sentencing guidelines for drug offenses ought to be unconstitutional.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Does this include drug dealing?

          Selling hard drugs to children? Selling hard drugs, period? (Meth, heroin, crack?)

          Question for Phil Coleman: I’ve read that this alleged murderer had a felony for marijuana … does that imply that he was selling a large quantity of pot?

  7. TrueBlueDevil

    This tragic death has had a much wider impact.

    1. When an older, glue-addicted drug addict can sneak into our country at least 5 times, we know the border is wide open.

    2. Previously buried crime statistics regarding illegal immigrants are seeing the light of day.

    3. We are seeing the many problems with ICE / deportation, hence the Kate Law proposal.

      1. Davis Progressive

        silence – no one wants to talk about the legal issues raised by the aclu.  zaqzaq called it a propaganda piece, i don’t think he understood the legal issues involved.

        everyone wants to turn this into politics.  frankly i think marcos breton hit the nail on the head today: “men with scarier records than Sanchez are getting out every day. Does it make you feel safer if they are American citizens?”

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          That point is irrelevant and a purposeful distraction.

          This tragic death of an innocent young woman has focused the nation on the issue of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

          Many just learned – including myself – that Texas has deported over 7,000 illegal alien offenders the past three years; 27% of those deported the past three months (860) committed their acts against children.


          As Phil Coleman wrote, we’re getting varying accounts from various individuals on what happened. I think a lot of people dropped the ball. Hence the proposal for Kate’s Law.

        2. hpierce

          Guess I have a different take on this TBD.

          I see a bad person who has committed an atrocious crime, with a pattern of flagrantly showing disrespect for law and society.

          I don’t see him as a poster child for anything.  Not race, not immigration policies, just a bad person. One we need to excise from our midst.

  8. Tia Will

    That point is irrelevant and a purposeful distraction.”

    That point is completely relevant given your comment about this being an immigration issue. I agree with hpierce on this one and am surprised that you do not also given your tendency to attribute responsibility to the solely to the individual involved rather than considering any mitigating social, economic, or mental health issues. Now you seem to be claiming that this individual’s immigration status should be taken into consideration rather than just the facts of his crimes.

  9. Tia Will


    Yes, so why didn’t you denounce all of the Democrats who tried to use the recent cop-black incidents for their political careers?”

    Because I did not and do not see it as relevant to the topic.

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