WASHINGTON — The random killing of a 32-year-old California woman has reignited an intense debate about immigration reform, after the suspect was identified as an illegal immigrant with a felony record.
In a statement made this week to the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco offered his prayers and condolences to the victim’s family. He also cautioned lawmakers against using the case for political gain and against seeing all immigrants as violent criminals.
“While it is important that we learn from this incident and work to prevent it from happening again, it is also important that we recognize that the vast majority of immigrants — both those with and without papers — are not a violent threat to society and so should not be subject to guilt by association,” he said.
“In fact, statistics show that immigrant communities are by and large safe and that a cooperative relationship between law enforcement and those communities enhances public safety and reduces crime,” the archbishop continued. “In this regard, I ask our local, state, and federal elected officials to work together in a bipartisan manner to ensure that all persons — U.S citizens and newcomers alike — are protected from individuals who pose a threat to national security or public safety.”
The victim in the case, Kathryn (Kate) Steinle, was strolling along Pier 14 in San Francisco with her father and a family friend in the early evening on July 1 when she was randomly shot and killed.
“There was a pop, and Kate went down,” 68-year-old Jim Steinle, the victim’s father, recalled the day after the incident, according to San Francisco Gate.
Kate’s last words to her father were: “Help me, Dad.”
The suspect, 45-year-old Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, is an illegal immigrant, with seven felonies on his record, who has been deported back to Mexico five times and whose last known address was in Texas.
Steinle’s parents are among those calling for reform of the “disjointed” immigration system and enforcement during meetings with the Senate and House Judiciary Committees this week.
“Legislation should be discussed, enacted or changed to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good,” Steinle told the Senate Judiciary Committee July 21, according to the Los Angeles Times, calling for the closing of legal loopholes.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said during Tuesday’s meeting that Sanchez’s criminal record shows “the failure of the system” and that Steinle’s death was a tragedy that “could have been avoided.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña defended the current administration’s strategy on immigration reform. She noted that the agency is working with local authorities on bettering the communication about and apprehending of inmates and on finding solutions tailored to the needs of specific locations.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also testified, saying he preferred sanctuary policies that ease the relationship between immigrants and law enforcement. In cases like this, Lee noted, immigrants can be key witnesses and informants if they do not fear deportation.
At the end of his statement, Archbishop Cordileone said he acknowledged the need for immigration reform, but asked that it be done in a way that still respects families and human dignity.
He said, “Such reform, long overdue, should preserve family unity, ensure the due process of law, protect those fleeing persecution and ensure the integrity of our nation’s borders.”