The White House on Monday defended its immigration policies and blasted Republicans following the killing of a San Francisco woman — allegedly by an illegal immigrant.
When asked if the case was a failure of the administration’s enforcement policies, White House press secretary Josh Earnest chided Republicans for blocking a bipartisan immigration bill that would have boosted funding for border security.
“I recognize that people want to play politics with this,” Earnest said. “The fact is the president has done everything within his power to make sure that we’re focusing our law enforcement resources on criminals and those who pose a threat to public safety.”
Kathryn Steinle, 32, was shot and killed Wednesday at a popular tourist destination in San Francisco. The suspect, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had multiple felony convictions and had been deported to Mexico five times.
Earnest faulted the “political efforts of Republicans” for blocking “the kind of investment that we would like to make in securing our border and keeping our communities safe.”
The spokesman refused to comment on the details of the case, but he pointed to Obama’s executive actions on immigration launched last fall, which instructed the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the deportation of people who are considered “public safety threats.”
“We have started to make changes in terms of structuring and staffing … to ensure that our law enforcement efforts are focused on felons and not on families,” he said. “These efforts would be significantly augmented had Republicans not blocked common-sense immigration reform.”
Federal authorities have suggested San Francisco bears responsibility for the fact that Lopez-Sanchez was still on the street. U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) turned him over to San Francisco authorities in March on a drug warrant.
But he was released in April after the charges were dropped, and local law enforcement did not honor federal officials’ request to be notified when he was freed.
“We’re not asking local law enforcement to do our job,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said, according to Fox News. “All we’re asking is that they notify us when a serious foreign national criminal offender is being released to the street so we can arrange to take custody.”
San Francisco is a “sanctuary city” that does not cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.
“It’s not legal to hold someone on a request to detain. This is not just us. This is a widely adopted position,” San Francisco Sheriff’s Department attorney Freya Horne told The Associated Press.
Some Republicans have said the Obama administration shares responsibility for Steinle’s death. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) faulted ICE for handing Lopez-Sanchez over to San Francisco officials knowing it is a sanctuary city.
“The federal government and San Francisco are wrong here,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Why did they ever turn him over to them when they could have deported him, or they could have prosecuted him for illegally re-entering the country four times and send him to prison?” Goodlatte added. “Either way, Kate Steinle would be safe.”