Civil Rights Groups Urge Caution in ‘Sanctuary City’ Crackdown

Kathryn Steinle’s killing by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco this month riled the national debate about so-called "sanctuary cities."

Staunch Democrats—including California's U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton—joined a chorus of conservative calls denouncing local dissension of federal immigration holds. The issue has become a talking point in the 2016 presidential campaign, while bills going after sanctuary cities have been fast-tracked to the House and Senate.

Civil rights groups are now warning Democratic lawmakers against getting caught up in the hype, especially given the Republican control of Congress. A diverse coalition of more than 50 California groups signed a letter this week urging Feinstein and Boxer to resist laws that would coerce local law enforcement to cooperate with immigration officials.

“We recognize that the tragic death of Kathryn Steinle moved you to identify solutions to prevent a devastating loss like this from occurring again,” the statement reads. “However, the response to the tragic death of Ms. Steinle should be reasoned and thoughtful, not broad, rushed mandatory enforcement measures, which will punish immigrants wholesale, and sanction California law enforcement leaders who developed policies aimed at improving public safety."

On Thursday, the House passed a bill that would punish state and local governments that prevent officers from asking people about their immigration status. The law would deny federal funding to places with “sanctuary” policies.

This would impact Santa Clara County, which in 2011 created a rule that allowed people to cooperate with police without fear of being detained or deported. Another measure, named “Kate’s Law” after the 32-year-old victim, would enact five-year minimum prison sentences for deportees caught coming back to the US, an especially costly proposal for a state like California.

Laws so drastic shouldn't be triggered by a single event, according to the July 28 letter signed by the ACLU and dozens of other immigrant advocacy groups.

"We urge you to not let Ms. Steinle’s death lead to sweeping, overly broad policies that invite more tragedies—through unreported crimes and unjust deportations," the letter states. "Effective policies are carefully crafted over time, by examining our shared values and opinions, and working toward equality and justice for all people. They are not made based on a single, tragic incident or by taking the actions of one individual to justify an overly broad policy that criminalizes an entire community.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, however, has urged regional leaders to reconsider the county's civil detainer policy.

"Contrary to the purposes served by other immigrant-focused initiatives we've supported, any policy that hastens the release of predatory criminals makes us all less safe," Liccardo wrote in a July 10 letter to Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese.

San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez, a former policeman, said reactionary policies miss the mark.

“I have a different perspective,” he wrote in an op-ed. “No one who is a threat to public safety should be released or allowed to roam free in our streets, regardless of their immigration status. While some have once again chosen to scapegoat immigrants in the United States, I assert that the real problem here lies in an inadequate criminal justice system and the loopholes that allow dangerous criminals to be released. Immigrants do not commit crimes at higher rates than citizens. If we want a true fix for crime, we need to fix these loopholes for everyone.”

More than 320 localities across the nation have limited cooperation with ICE agents because of concerns about liability and constitutionality.

Below is a copy of the letter sent by the ACLU and other groups to Boxer and Feinstein:

Dear Senators Feinstein and Boxer,

We write on behalf of a diverse community of your constituents who represent civil rights, immigrant rights, victims’ services, labor, faith, and human rights organizations to express our deep opposition to any legislation that you would consider introducing or supporting, that would undermine community safety policies adopted by law enforcement leaders in nearly all counties in the state of California.

We are deeply concerned that leaders in the state with the largest immigrant population in the country are willing to consider or lead legislative efforts to mandate local and state police entanglement with federal immigration enforcement. This type of entanglement through Secure Communities and other programs resulted in more deportations in California than any other state and a record number of deportations in our history.

Legislative efforts, along with efforts to strip federal grants from local law enforcement agencies that prioritize building and restoring community trust over detention and deportation, are exactly the kinds of enforcement-only policies that have and will continue to rip apart millions of immigrant families who make up the fabric of our communities across California and the entire nation. In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, which you have both supported, immigrant families continue to languish in fear of deportation, which strongly deters them from coming forward as crime victims or witnesses. It is precisely this fear that has led over 320 localities across the country, including the majority of localities in California, to embrace community safety policies that allow their local law enforcement agents to do the job of preventing crime—not the job of federal immigration enforcement.

When local police are perceived as immigration agents, it creates a profound chilling effect for immigrant victims and witnesses who believe that sharing information with the police could result in permanent separation from their loved ones. Indeed, there are countless stories of victims who did report crimes, only to find themselves victimized twice, after being detained by immigration, separated from their families and awaiting deportation.

We recognize that the tragic death of Kathryn Steinle moved you to identify solutions to prevent a devastating loss like this from occurring again. However, the response to the tragic death of Ms. Steinle should be reasoned and thoughtful, not broad, rushed mandatory enforcement measures, which will punish immigrants wholesale, and sanction California law enforcement leaders who developed policies aimed at improving public safety.

We urge you to not let Ms. Steinle’s death lead to sweeping, overly broad policies that invite more tragedies—through unreported crimes and unjust deportations. Effective policies are carefully crafted over time, by examining our shared values and opinions, and working toward equality and justice for all people. They are not made based on a single, tragic incident or by taking the actions of one individual to justify an overly broad policy that criminalizes an entire community.

Sadly, in response to the tragic death of Ms. Steinle, we have already seen many politicians introduce and support legislation that scapegoats all immigrants based on the acts of one. Just last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3009, a bill that mirrors Senate proposals, such as those introduced by Senators Grassley and Vitter, and would deny critical funds for law enforcement programs in the more than 320 communities nationwide that have adopted community safety practices that encourage all crime victims to come forward.

The White House, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and your colleague and fellow California leader, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, all issued statements strongly opposing H.R. 3009. In criticizing the bill, Speaker Pelosi said, “The safety of our neighborhoods and local communities should not be a pawn for Speaker Boehner’s latest gambit to hide his failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform.” California’s TRUST Act and the local policies in most if not all counties across the state do not insulate individuals from accountability. Rather, they promote public safety by relying on practices that have proven to be effective in building trust and, consequently, preventing crime. It is unconscionable to think that the response to local law enforcement leaders that support these policies is to cut them off from critical funds that enable them to do their essential day-to-day work in preventing and investigating crimes.

Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—the very federal agency these bills are purportedly aimed at helping—rejects legislative responses to Ms. Steinle’s death. As DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson himself acknowledged in a July 14, 2015 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, “In my judgment, and the judgment of a lot of other border security, immigration enforcement experts, the way to most effectively work with these jurisdictions, again, is a cooperative one, not by hitting them over the head with federal legislation that will engender a lot more litigation.”

Secretary Johnson’s statements also recognized the numerous federal court decisions holding local agencies legally liable for constitutional violations when holding individuals on a request from immigration. States and localities should be permitted to pursue policies that foster trust and cooperation with their local communities. California has spoken loudly and clearly on this topic, both at the county and state levels. Moreover, as confirmed by a July 2015 report by the American

Immigration Council, increased immigration to the United States has in fact coincided with a significant decrease in both violent and property crimes nationwide.3 We know that the majority of the immigrant population comes to this country to reunite with family, work and make meaningful contributions that enrich their communities. What we need is a long-term Congressional solution aimed at addressing our broken immigration system, not reactionary policy proposals that focus on only one facet of a very complicated system. We urge you to do the right thing for all California residents and not introduce any legislative mandates that would undermine effective law enforcement practices that have kept all of California’s communities safer, stronger, and united.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Assuming the “find” function on my software is working properly, I find it remarkable that in this substantial piece on the plight of illegal alien criminals nowhere can be found the words illegal, alien, or criminal (used as a noun adjunct to immigrant). So much for the credibility of Ms. Wadsworth and everyone else quoted in it.

    Maybe next they’ll discuss solutions to the foul odor common to riding stables and progressive politics without ever using the word horse—-.

  2. As soon as I read “so-called ‘sanctuary cities'” I knew this was going to be a load of crap. Turning a blind eye to illegal immigration is no longer an option. Every country has a right, and a duty to it’s legal citizens, to control immigration, and punish illegal immigration. Period.

    I would be in favor of some form if legal status that illegals can apply for, if and only if, the border was secured first. In addition, create a mandatory system for companies to check the status of workers. Create a “no excuses” enforcement policy that companies would be held to.

    The problem of illegal immigration can be fixed, but some do not want open borders, and the ability for anyone to come here. The want a complete open door immigration policy, so they intentionally stand in the way of any progress to secure our borders. It’s time to brush that opposition aside, and let progress happen.

  3. Both organizations mentioned in this article “National Immigration Law Center” and “American Civil Liberties Union” are amazing examples of self-contradiction. They should seriously consider renaming themselves to “International Invasion Lawlessness Center” and “UnAmerican Anarchistic Tyranny Union” respectively.

    • The ACLU is possibly the most deceptively named institution in history.

      Because the founder ,Roger Baldwin, was so cynical and clever to include the terms “American” and “Civil Liberties” in it’s name, most people assume it has something to do with America or civil liberties.

      But the reality is, it is about Communism (with a large “C”), which at the time was NOT about America, but about the Soviet Union, and not about “civil liberties”, but statism and collectivism.

      In a moment of candor, Baldwin let it all hang out: “Communism is the goal”.

      Sorry, but the ACLU is NOT a “Civil Rights Group”. It is a communist group.

      You know: communism: Lenin, Trotsky, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Ukrainian famine, Stalin, repression, Lubyanka, gulags, Iron Curtain, Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, etc. etc.

      That kind of communism.

  4. NOTE & WARNING: The links provided below contain direct quotes from Obama and his officials.
    Obama gives free pass to businesses that hire illegals
    Audits, fines drop for employers

    “President Obama took office vowing to go after unscrupulous employers who hire illegal immigrants, but worksite audits have plunged over the last year and a half, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Immigration Studies, tumbling along with the rest of immigration enforcement.”

    The Left-Leaning LA Times posted an article that shows that the Obama administration, the Illegal Alien lobby, and the major media outlets have been in collusion to depict the “high” deportation numbers. The exact opposite is true since the beginning of the current President’s policy. Interior deportation has and will be lower than 1973 rates. This is leading towards more people overstaying their visas and currently, more Illegal Alien minors crossing the border. Obama has just recently instructed border patrol to not turn back those Illegal Aliens on record as having entered illegally as priors, but to let them pass IF they don’t have a major criminal record. After the first Illegal Entry, it is a felony each time thereafter.

    Even Obama in 2011, called the deportation numbers deceptive when talking to Hispanic voters. President Obama said statistics that show his administration is on track to deport more illegal immigrants than the Bush administration are misleading.

    “The statistics are a little deceptive,” he said Wednesday in an online discussion aimed at Hispanic voters.”

    “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it’s just highly unlikely to happen,” John Sandweg, until recently the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement,0,545192,full.story#axzz2xkzioeHR
    Immigration Reform 2015: Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program Protects 87 Percent Of Undocumented Immigrants, Report Finds

    “The refocus in law enforcement efforts has effectively protected 9.6 million of the United States’ estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, the report found. In all, a full implementation of Obama’s changes would reduce annual deportations to approximately 25,000…”
    “The federal government’s chief deportation agency has seen its success plummet under President Obama, and its chief, Sarah R. Saldana, will tell Congress on Tuesday that they’ve had trouble adapting to the changing face of illegal immigration and a lack of cooperation from both American cities and from foreign countries.

    Ms. Saldana, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), says in testimony prepared for the House Judiciary Committee that the dramatic drop in deportations is a reflection of a trickier set of circumstances and pressures from all sides.

    She said she had to pull agents off their regular duties during last summer’s illegal immigrant surge at the border, which meant fewer people focusing on deporting the longtime illegal immigrants living in the interior of the U.S. And she said the lack of cooperation from states, counties and cities when agents ask them to hold an illegal immigrant for pickup has also hindered efforts.”

    BREAKING: Pier 14 Murder Suspect Had Been Deported 5 Times with 7 Felonies

    “Five-time deportee and seven-time convicted felon Francisco Sanchez has been jailed on suspicion of shooting and killing 31-year-old Kathryn Steinle Wednesday evening while taking photos with her father at Pier 14 in San Francisco, California. Sanchez was freed after the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department refused to honor a request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain him, following a policy adopted in 2014. He was arrested soon after the shooting.”
    Sacramento sheriff criticizes Obama on immigration

    “Jones vowed to crusade against illegal immigration after the shooting rampage last month by a Mexican man with a long criminal history who was in the country illegally.”
    By The Way, Ice Just Release 30,558 More Violent Criminal Illegal Aliens Onto American Streets
    ICE Document Details 36,000 Criminal Alien Releases in 2013
    U.S. misinformed Congress, public on immigrant release
    DHS document: 68,000 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions released in 2013
    Thousands of Illegal Immigrants Released — Including 3,000 With Felony Charges or Convictions

  6. The Liberal Case AGAINST Illegal Immigration:

    This is the Progressive Case AGAINST Illegal Immigration:
    Report: Obama’s Book Says Illegals Can Hurt Americans
    Didn’t anyone in the Hispanic media read Obama’s book? Or listen to when he speaks?
    Barack Obama in his own words from “The Audacity of Hope”
    – Illegal Immigration hurts Black Americans and Blue Collared Workers

    Video Not Working? I wonder why?!? Here’s an Audio Link:

  7. Now, I’m very confused. The Feds sued States there were enforcing Federal Immigration Code. But, the Feds don’t sue States that defy the same codes. This is all very confusing.

  8. “Kathryn Steinle’s killing by an unauthorized immigrant…” First they were called illegal aliens, then illegal immigrants. Next the PC crowd coined the phrase undocumented immigrants. Now to be even more PC, SJI has coined the term unauthorized immigrants. I wonder: was that Jen’s new term, or the editor’s? Any guesses regarding how we could be even more PC in describing people who sneak into the U.S. in violation of U.S. law, many of whom then violate state and local penal statutes, and most of whom work under the table for cash, pay no taxes, but utilize a vast array of services at no cost to them but at a substantial cost to honest, hard working middle class taxpayers?

    The federal courts struck down Arizona’s law re illegal immigrants, on the basis that federal law has preempted the field of immigration law. The fact that Arizona’s law was almost word for word what is contained in federal statutes that have not been consistently enforced for a couple of decades apparently meant nothing to the “learned justices.” If federal law preempts the field of immigration law and enforcement, as the Court of Appeals ruled, then sanctuary cities are completely illegal. No new legislation is needed. Just enforce what is already on the books. The Attorney General should issue a cease and desist order to all sanctuary cities. Warn them that if they fail to comply, all federal funds to them will be cut off within 30 days. In the face of that threat, what local official would dare to lose education funding, highway and roads funding, etc. by continuing this sanctuary BS?

  9. For those who want to stop illegal aliens from killing our citizens, you must do more than just read the article. Email and/or call Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (Forget Pelosi, she is too far gone) and let them know where you stand. Remember, the left is going to do everything they can to stop Kate’s Law and that just can’t happen for the simple reason this will continue on and on unless it is stopped now by the American people.

  10. If a government refuses to serve the people and follow the constitution, it is the duty of the people to forcibly remove it from power. Those were the sentiments of the patriots who founders country, and whiteout constitution. Our government hasn’t served the people or followed the constitution for decades. They give lip service and then do what they want to do anyway.

  11. The ACLU’s plaintive bleat that if immigration laws are enforced that some illegal aliens might be reluctant to interact with the police is beyond predictable. It is certainly possible that a criminal alien (often without a driver’s license or insurance) may not call police to report his car stolen if he feared that the officers who arrived might discover he is breaking the immigration laws but why stop there? Criminal aliens who are defrauding welfare also might be reluctant to call, out of concern that their illegal activities might be discovered too. The same goes for a child abuser; a drug dealer; a parole violator; a check forger; a prostitute; a child pornographer; or a person with outstanding warrants. All these people might fear that the police will respond and discover their illegal activities too. Would the ACLU have the police adopt policies that ignore those crimes as well? It sickens me that the ACLU expresses such concern regarding the supposed “chilling effect” that fair enforcement of immigration laws might have on the interaction between police and illegal aliens but this same ACLU said nothing regarding the “chilling effect” that O.J.’s acquittal may have had on domestic violence victims.

    The concern that illegal alien victims won’t report crimes is misleading. It often isn’t really the victim’s prerogative. While a criminal alien may not call the police after receiving a bloody nose during the customary Saturday night bar fight, if this same individual is found shot or stabbed, the police will initiate an investigation themselves, whether the victim wants the police involved or not. Serious crime will be reported or discovered by cops, emergency room doctors and/or concerned community members who will report it when they see it, not when the criminal alien decides to come forward. As well, there seems little doubt that illegal aliens who witness crimes, and who are often still present in the area when police arrive at the scene, will likely be more inclined to cooperate if an officer mentions that he may “overlook” any potential “immigration irregularities” in exchange for a truthful witness statement, while lack of cooperation may result in further inquiries into that particular (illegal alien) witness’s status. My guess is, they’ll talk.

    Creating a class of persons who are above the law and immune to enforcement, as illegal immigrants would become if the ACLU had their way, would be a policy that fosters disrespect for all laws in general, for the police in particular, and would be a policy that is unjust to all persons who have been, or will be, victimized by crimes perpetrated by criminal aliens, as well as an insult to all legal immigrants and those decent people who do obey the law. Such a policy would only accelerate the spin on the downward spiral toward anarchy.

  12. I think President G.W. Bush had an excellent idea. He proposed that everyone in this country illegally would be be geranted temporarily legal status, until their immigration case was heard. But in order to get that legal status, each illegal resident would first have to “touch base” by going back to their home country and applying for it.

    They would apply at the American embassy, where they would be photographed and figerprinted. Then they could immediately return to the U.S. without fear of deportation. That process could be made by appointment with the embassy, and it could take as little as a day.

    The big advantage would be that the criminal element would not be allowed back. Their prints would be on file, and if they were caught here they would either be deported, or held for trial and if convicted, deported once their sentence was completed. The honest ones could get temporary legal status — something that could, and should be made easier than the current fifteen years or more of waiting.

    The legal immigrants would approve of this, too. They don’t want gang-bangers here any more than the rest of us do. Really, Trump should run with GW Bush’s proposal. He could say, “Hey Jeb, I liked your brother’s idea! Are you on board with it?”

    Win-win. ☺

    • Smokey Sez: “The big advantage would be that the criminal element would not be allowed back.” How would that help? Ms Steinle’s killer wasn’t “allowed” back. He re-entered the country illegally several times after being deported. All deporting does is increase the net worth of the coyotes who bring these folks back. Mr. Sanchez he admitted he shot Ms. Steinle, so he’s not her “alleged” killer, or “suspected” killer any longer, a distinction the main stream press is too biased to grasp. The only legal issue remaining for Mr. Sanchez after his post-Mirandized admission is whether a jury would believe that a guy who pumped 3 bullets into Ms. Steinle could have done it accidentally. He’d need OJ’s dream team to peddle that BS. The US government at the highest level needs to engage the Mexican government at the highest level We need to tell the Mexican government that if illegal immigrants commit crimes in the USA that result in deportation to Mexico, the Mexican government needs to assume the cost of incarcerating them, and assume the risk if they return to the US. If they fail, we will impose economic sanctions on Mexico. Of course, that will never happen. BTW, has anyone conducted an extensive investigation into how many government officials in the USA employ illegals as nannies, gardeners, pool boys, cooks, housemaids, etc.? Of course not. Who would order such an investigation? Too many of them are dirty, and their colleagues won’t rat them out or impose sanctions on them for their hypocrisy.

  13. JMO,

    Even though you’re being argumantative I agree with everything you wrote. The probem of course is that there is no willpower behind our laws.

    I just think that Donald Trump would get more traction by proposing an answer to the problem of illegals, instead of simply saying there is a problem. Illegal immigrants are flooding into our country by the millions, directly violating the Constitution’s requirement that the chief Administrator’s job is to fight such invasions. Instead, the President is condoning and assisting in the lawbreaking.

    I agree that Mexico is complicit, because their gov’t has issued pamphlets instructing would-be lawbreakers exactly how to cross the border illegally, and how to collect taxpayer benefits once they’re here. President Obama is doing nothing less than condoning taxpayer theft by his connivance with the Mexican government, which is doing exactly what Cuba did in the 1980’s when Castro emptied his insane asylums and prisons during the ‘Mariel boatlift’. It’s an act of war, and Mexico should be treated as an enemy agggressor. They owe us major compensation.

    But as stated above, the only thing missing is the will to fix this problem. I would be happy to support anyone who would take a stand against the flood of illegals coming here. But so far, Trump is the only national figure who comes close. So assuming he doesn’t fold, he gets my vote — and from the looks of things, he is getting the support of more American citizens than any other candidate from either party.

  14. I think something that is overlooked is the fact that reason people want to come to this country, legally or otherwise is that the USA system despite its flaws works. It is this system of laws, regulations that make the US what it is. For any so called group of immigration rights activists surely this is a given. So for Hispanics, Asians and any others that have immigrated here LEGALLY – then logically they should want to defend this system against those who would bend, break or ignore the system that brought them here in the first place. Otherwise the US would end up being just like the place they or their families originally immigrated from.

    Yes we are country of immigrants – legal immigrants and there is a world of difference between the two types of immigrants. Those who abide by and respect our rules and laws and those that don’t.

    So to all LEGAL immigrants I say get on board and support tough immigration policy – its for your own good and your children’s good as well. Do you want your children and grandchildren growing up in a place like the one you left? Of course not.

    The letter of supposed diverse groups that wrote the letter to Feinstein and Boxer that J Wadworth mentions – they have NO interest in the well being of the country but only their own partisan interests – and that is very obvious. They do not have a primary concern for the country or even the immigrants they purport to help. To them illegal immigrants are just fodder for their own political ambitions.

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