Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A New Flashpoint for Presidential Debates

Just as opponents of creating clear paths for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States – including theDreamers (children who came here at a very young age and are Americans in every facet of their lives) – celebrated (sad, when a human life was taken) as an undocumented alien who had been criminally deported five times shot a woman in a sanctuary city, it got complicated. San Francisco is one of those cities unwilling to participate in federal programs to identify and deport undocumented aliens.
It seems that the gun that was used belonged to a federal agent (stolen it seems), and the shooter – identified as 56-year-old Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez (one of his many aliases) – claimed that this was a case of accidental gun discharge, not murder. Lopez-Sanchez has pled not guilty in a California Superior Court in San Francisco in the murder of Kathryn Steinle, 32. Lopez-Sanchez claims he “found” the gun, wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench on an SF pier.
Still, the mere fact that the shooter was in the United States at all, and that San Francisco’s seeming blanket disavowal of federal deportation policies leaves a horde of undocumented aliens with alleged criminal proclivities free on the city’s streets, are at the heart of the debate. Many conservatives, with a strong “I told you so” string of comments from the Donald, have tried hard to repress a grin that bolsters their commitment to block any form of immigration reform that condones letting undocumented residents, regardless of the circumstances, remain in the United States.
But the incident exposes failures in the system at so many levels. No one in San Francisco’s government really believed that Lopez-Sanchez should have been here at all. Lopez-Sanchez was caught at the El Paso border years ago and arrested. He didn’t even arrive in the Bay City on his own accord; the feds sent him there! In a strange twist of fate, he had just finished an almost four-year prison sentence in a federal prison for illegal entry and had been shipped to San Francisco by federal authorities in connection with a felony marijuana warrant. But the judge found insufficient evidence to hold Lopez-Sanchez and released him. So Lopez-Sanchez joined the herd of undocumented and began looking for work.
Here’s where it gets dicey. “Federal officials say that as soon as they learned of Mr. Lopez-Sanchez’s transfer from federal prison to San Francisco, they issued a request to Sheriff [Ross] Mirkarimi to notify them when he would be released. An order for his deportation was ready… ‘We are just asking for a heads-up, a phone call,’ said Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE. ‘We did not hear anything until the day this young woman was killed.’
“A San Francisco ordinance, passed in 2013, broadly restricts the police from cooperating with immigration agents. City officials say the so-called sanctuary law has helped law enforcement by enhancing trust between the police and residents who are immigrants without documents… Sheriff Mirkarimi said the city’s ordinance allowed him to respond to the federal authorities only when he had a court order or warrant.” New York Times, July 7th. It was a perfect storm between what AOL has labeled America’s most liberal city and… well… just about everyone else. An Obama administration effort to root out undocumented criminals hit an overbroad ordinance that I suspect will soon be modified (SF’s Mayor Edward Lee was equally appalled at the result).
Democrats from Hillary Clinton (SF “made a mistake”) to California’s own U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein decried the use of an ordinance to shelter a known felon. San Francisco is not alone in having such sanctuary statutes, but the inability of the federal government to come up with a realistic and implementable immigration policy has resulted in a hodgepodge of state and local reactions that have raged through the courts and state legislatures for years.
You can probably see some of these sanctuary laws altered so as not to protect known felons, but what is really happening in the country is another case of a Congressional gridlock on immigration issues. Even within the individual parties, what to do is hardly embraced uniformly within party platforms. Flip flopping on the issue has become epidemic. But there are no realistic solutions anywhere on the horizon.
Yes, this will be a big issue in the presidential elections. Yes, the Obama Administration is under a court order suspending its attempt to issue executive orders around the gridlock. But no matter which side wins the 2016 presidential race and no matter how Congress may be reconfigured, exactly what kind of a law would reform immigration that could be both meaningful (practical and implementable) and pass both the House and the Senate and get a presidential signature? Think about it.
I’m Peter Dekom, and when it comes to immigration, expect Congress to do what it does best: debate furiously, do nothing and kick another can down the road.

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