“Help me, Dad …”
Those were Kate Steinle’s final words as she died in her father’s arms last July, bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. Kate and her father were walking arm-in-arm on a San Francisco pier when suddenly a gunman opened fire, killing Kate.
What is truly maddening is that the shooter should never have been on the pier that day. He was an illegal immigrant who had previously been convicted of seven felonies and had been deported five times before.
Three months earlier, federal agents had asked San Francisco police to keep the man in custody until they could come pick him up. San Francisco refused to cooperate, and instead released the shooter.
Why? Because San Francisco is a “sanctuary city” — a jurisdiction that forbids its local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal officials to apprehend illegal immigrants, even when local police wish to do so.
If federal officials had called about virtually any other crime — robbery, car theft, violating a trademark — San Francisco police would have been allowed to cooperate. But because the crime was illegal immigration, their hands were tied. The police were forced to release the man who would go on to kill Kate Steinle.
As a father of three, I cannot imagine the heartbreak Kate’s parents have endured.
Sadly, the Steinles are not alone. During an eight-month period in 2014, sanctuary jurisdictions released over 8,000 illegal immigrants, and 1,800 of them were later arrested for criminal acts.
The vast majority of immigrants to America are honest, hardworking people. But every group includes some criminals. And with 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, there will surely be some violent criminals in this group.
In the wake of such tragedies, one would expect cities across America to eliminate dangerous sanctuary-city policies.
Last year, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter took a step in the right direction. At the urging of the Obama administration, Mayor Nutter removed some of the restrictions on Philadelphia police. He allowed local law enforcement to notify federal immigration officials when a violent offender was about to be released from prison, so federal officials could apprehend and deport the individual. And Mayor Nutter allowed police to cooperate with federal officials in apprehending individuals suspected of terrorism. Mayor Nutter was right.
This month, however, the City of Philadelphia reversed course and rescinded Mayor Nutter’s policies. As a result, the people of Philadelphia, and throughout Pennsylvania, will be less safe.
Consider, for example, the case of Alberto Suarez. In 2010, he kidnapped and raped a Montgomery County teenager, reportedly telling her that police would never find him because he was in the U.S. illegally. Five months later, he kidnapped a 22-year old woman from a Philadelphia bus stop and raped her. Under Philadelphia’s new policy, local police cannot cooperate with federal immigration officials when Suarez is about to be released from prison, so Suarez can be deported. Local police have to hope that federal officials keep track of Suarez during his years of imprisonment, or he will be set free and able to repeat his crimes.
Philadelphia’s new policy also hinders the fight against terrorism. Now, Philadelphia police may not help federal agents locate and apprehend a suspected terrorist, unless the terrorist has already been convicted of a violent felony.
Imagine that Philadelphia police have arrested someone for a minor crime and that person is about to be released. It turns out that the individual is an illegal immigrant whom the FBI suspects of plotting a terror attack. Federal immigration officials want to apprehend the suspected terrorist, so they can question him and possibly deport him. Philadelphia’s response under the new system? Come back after this individual has committed and been convicted of an act of terrorism or some other violent felony. Until then, we will not help you.
Philadelphia’s sanctuary-city policy sends a clear message to those in our country illegally: if you come to Philly and commit your crimes, our police will not be allowed to turn you over for deportation.
This is absurd — a fact recognized by officials in both parties. Former Gov. and Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell has criticized the new policy. Last October, when I introduced legislation designed to end these dangerous sanctuary-city policies, the bill received bipartisan support. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, a minority blocked the U.S. Senate from taking a final vote on the legislation.
But I am not giving up. The safety of the people of Pennsylvania is too important. It is time for our leaders to put the safety of the American people first. It is time to end dangerous sanctuary city policies.
You can find the entire opinion piece by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey in The Northeast Times here.