Sanctuary cities choose criminals over citizens

By Senator Mike Morrell
Monday, July 27, 2015

Also published at The Press Enterprise

In recent weeks, our country has been rocked by the tragic death of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, a young woman who was senselessly gunned down while visiting San Francisco. She died in her father’s arms.

The alleged killer was in the country illegally and had been convicted of seven felonies, deported five times and ultimately given a safe haven by local law enforcement in San Francisco. Media reports indicated that he chose to remain there because of its status as a “sanctuary city.”

Throughout the nation, cities like San Francisco have enacted policies and ordinances granting themselves this designation in an attempt to shelter undocumented immigrants. But in doing so, these cities have refused to enforce the laws of the United States and, whether through direct or indirect action, have also harbored dangerous felons who flout our laws.

One of the primary responsibilities of every elected official at every level of government is taking the necessary actions to protect the people they serve. Decisions by city officials to ignore requests by the federal government to detain and return these felons unnecessarily expose citizens to preventable violent crimes, in violation of their constitutional oaths and sworn duty to defend their communities.

This is intolerable. Even some of the strongest national advocates of immigrant rights, such as Senator Dianne Feinstein and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton have criticized sanctuary city policies, and specifically the city of San Francisco, for failing to work with the federal government to make sure convicted felons are dealt with appropriately.

As we know, this is primarily a federal issue. Only Washington has the power and tools to secure the border and protect all Americans from the actions of elected officials who refuse to uphold the Constitution and U.S. law by deliberately avoiding cooperation with federal officials.

This tragic event in San Francisco makes clear a need to defend the public. A number of my colleagues and I have authored Senate Joint Resolution 17 to urge our counterparts in Congress to pass legislation that would create a mandatory minimum federal sentence of five years in a federal prison for any individual that has returned to the United States after having been deported and previously convicted of a felony in the United States. “Kate’s Law,” as it is being called, is a national response to Kathryn Steinle’s untimely death.

It must be made clear to deported, convicted felons that if they return to the United States, finding refuge in a sanctuary city is not an option. They will be sent to prison and not allowed to walk our streets.

Likewise, leaders in sanctuary cities must understand that if they think their policies can continue to be used to harbor criminals, they are wrong. Ultimately, they should be held liable for usurping the law.

This debate is about safety more than immigration. It is about making certain that we do all in our power to prevent the other Kates of the world from being harmed. When deported felons convicted of serious crimes come back to our country, it inhibits our ability to protect our citizens.

Americans have a passion for fairness and have long recognized the vital part immigrants have played in who we are as a nation. We invite all who are “yearning to breathe free” and have a respect for the rule of law to join us.

Our nation is founded on a set of moral, political and economic principles – enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – that are, in Lincoln’s words, the “electric cord” that binds us together as one people and one nation. As our founders said, it is on these common beliefs and sentiments that the future and safety of our republic depends.

Therefore, we must work together to ensure that governments at all levels know the limits of their power, and that we as a nation adhere to our system of laws.

“Sanctuary cities” across the country, like San Francisco, have willingly defied the federal government by choosing to protect criminals over the lives of law-abiding citizens. Kate’s death is a heartbreaking example of the dangers these policies pose.

These cities should not have the discretion to harbor convicted felons.