“Sanctuary Cities” and Violent Criminals–Myth and Reality

If you’ve been watching the rhetorical (Dondald Trump) and even legislative (the U.S. Congress) Republican effort to exploit the killing of Kathryn Steinle on a San Francisco pier by a recidivist immigration law violator into a general crackdown on cities that don’t always interrogate suspects or notify ICE about immigration violations, you should most definitely read Suzy Khimm’s explainer at TNR.

In an effort to restrict the overbroad notification requirements that had led hundreds of cities to stop routine referrals to the feds, and also to begin to redeem his own pledge to focus immigration enforcement on serious criminals, the President had authorized a new program to replaced the Secure Communities initiative that had essentially failed to target the high-risk illegals:

The administration is hoping that newer, gentler version of Secure Communities—rebranded as the “Priority Enforcement Program”—will entice cities like San Francisco to overcome their reluctance to cooperate with the feds. PEP narrows the criteria for deportation, prioritizing convicted felons, national security threats, gang members, and those immediately caught at the border. It’s begun to win over some critics of Secure Communities, including the police chief of Dayton, Ohio. But the program only began to take effect on July 1—the same day that Steinle died.

And the “reforms” Republicans are pushing for wouldn’t help much at all:

The House bill that passed Thursday, which was sponsored by California Representative Duncan Hunter, would take away funding from communities that restrict the collection of information about immigration or citizenship status. This is part of a decades-old fight on immigration: Los Angeles has a law dating back to 1979 saying that police can only ask about status if individuals are booked under certain crimes; San Francisco has a similar law. But there’s little evidence that such laws have anything to do with the recent tragedy: Officials at every level knew that Steinle’s alleged killer was unauthorized to be in the U.S. “What is the public policy problem that these proposals seek to address? it’s not even clear to me these are actually related to the Kate Steinle shooting,” says Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “The incident has given lawmakers and demagogues an opportunity to scapegoat immigrants.”

I know it’s hard to imagine lawmakers putting aside an executive initiative that would probably solve the problem they are complaining about instead of doing something ineffectual themselves, but it’s happening. They are ignoring the reality to pursue the myth.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.