San Francisco defends sanctuary city status as backlash mounts

AP Photo/Ben Margot
Craig Warner of Palo Alto, Calif., leaves a bell at a memorial site for Kate Steinle on Pier 14 Friday in San Francisco. In this fiercely liberal city, city leaders remained attached to San Francisco’s sanctuary city status despite a not guilty verdict in a killing that sparked feverish immigration debates because the man who fired the gun was in the country illegally after being deported five times.

AP Photo/Ben Margot Craig Warner of Palo Alto, Calif., leaves a bell at a memorial site for Kate Steinle on Pier 14 Friday in San Francisco. In this fiercely liberal city, city leaders remained attached to San Francisco’s sanctuary city status despite a not guilty verdict in a killing that sparked feverish immigration debates because the man who fired the gun was in the country illegally after being deported five times.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The attacks on San Francisco and other cities with similar immigration policies began moments after a jury acquitted a Mexican man of killing a woman on a popular pier, some calling for a boycott of the city that fiercely defends its reputation as a refuge for all.

President Donald Trump called the verdict a “complete travesty of justice,” and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanded cities like San Francisco scrap immigration policies that bar cooperation with federal deportation efforts.

Twitter users turned to the hashtags #BoycottSanFrancisco and #kateswall to demand construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall that Trump has called for. Conservative politicians and celebrities such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and actor James Woods lambasted the city as unsafe.

City officials vowed to stand behind their “sanctuary city” policy. It’s what led Jose Ines Garcia Zarate to be released from San Francisco’s jail despite a federal request to detain him for deportation several weeks before Kate Steinle was fatally shot in the back in 2015. He had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth.

“San Francisco is and always will be a sanctuary city,” said Ellen Canale, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee.

Sanctuary policies improve public safety by allowing immigrants to cooperate with police without fear, said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democratic former San Francisco supervisor.

“This family has been through hell, but there are people, including our president, who continue to use this tragedy to demonize immigrants and to slander immigrants by suggesting they are all criminals, and that is not true,” he said Friday.

San Francisco was among the first U.S. cities to establish a sanctuary law in 1989 as part of a national wave of local policies intended to help Central American refugees.

Since then, the city consistently has been an early adopter of some of the most immigrant-friendly policies nationwide, and it takes pride in serving as a safe place for religious and gender minorities, non-English speakers and people in the country illegally. Hundreds of other cities have similar immigration policies.

A judge did not allow immigration politics into the courtroom for Garcia Zarate’s trial.

San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia urged jurors to convict Garcia Zarate of first-degree murder, saying he had come to the pier with a gun and a desire to hurt someone.

His attorneys argued that he found a gun wrapped in cloth under a chair on the pier and it fired when he picked it up.

Jurors rejected charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter but did convict Garcia Zarate of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail. It’s likely he will have served long enough behind bars considering his time in custody.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it would “ultimately remove” Garcia Zarate from the country.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump and others pointed to Steinle’s death as reasons why the country’s immigration laws should be tightened.

Trump called the verdict “disgraceful” and posted on Twitter that “the Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court.”

“His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL,” Trump tweeted.

Garcia Zarate’s convictions were immigration and drug-related but he had no record of violence.

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