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Clinton Campaign: Sanctuary Cities Can Help Public Safety

Image: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at the Iowa City Public Library, Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Charlie Neibergall / AP

Hillary Clinton’s campaign sought to make clear she supports sanctuary cities following criticism on San Francisco's release of an immigrant here illegally who is accused of shooting and killing a woman.

“Hillary Clinton believes that sanctuary cities can help further public safety, and she has defended those policies going back years,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, a campaign spokeswoman, in a statement made public Thursday. “As she made clear, this particular individual should not have been on the streets...She believes that we need a system where people like this don’t fall through the cracks and that is why she continues to fight for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Clinton, a Democrat, weighed in on the sanctuary city issue after comments from Republican candidate Donald Trump following a fatal shooting in San Francisco. Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, accused of shooting Kathryn Steinle, had re-entered the country several times after deportations, raising questions about policies of cities like San Francisco to leave immigration enforcement to federal officials. Some cities with this sort of policy are called sanctuary cities.

Asked in a CNN interview about the shooting, Clinton said, "The city made a mistake not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported.”

But she went on to add that if an immigrant is picked up for a traffic violation or misdemeanor - and has no criminal record - that is entirely different.

Clinton's support for sanctuary cities is in line with immigration advocates as well as some of the nation's elected and law enforcement officials who believe that there is better cooperation with the police among communities if immigration enforcement is left primarily to federal authorities. Though sanctuary policies differ among cities, these include New York City, Houston and Chicago.

Opponents of sanctuary cities say it can result in protection for illegal activity, and several Republican candidates have made it clear this week they do not support them. Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said Wednesday in New Hampshire, "We ought to eliminate sanctuary cities" and said federal law enforcement money should be withheld until the city changes these policies.

On Tuesday, speaking in the Laura Ingraham show, Republican Senator Rand Paul said immigration laws are "...being flouted and basically laughed at by cities like San Francisco… They’re ought to be a revolution of folks saying, ‘We want you to obey the law,’ and making sure the president hears them loud and clear."

The political wrangling over immigration enforcement among the candidates comes the same week the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by 26 states against the Obama administration over his executive action creating programs, now stymied by the suit, to shield millions of immigrants here illegally from deportation.

Clinton has said she strongly support Obama's executive actions and plans to expand on them, while Republican candidates have opposed them saying it should be Congress changing immigration directives.

As part of executive actions, the Department of Homeland Security has sought to refine its deportation policies so that immigration enforcement resources are focused on the worst criminals and those who present a public safety or national security threat. The Obama administration also has had a long-term policy of making those who re-enter the country after they’ve been deported under order a priority for deportation and prosecution, regardless of whether they’ve committed any other crime.

Lopez Sanchez, the immigrant accused of killing Steinle, was deported to Mexico five times between June 1994 and June 2009 and served about 15 years in prison over three separate incarcerations for those illegal re-entry convictions, according to The Associated Press.

He had completed his latest sentence in March and was to be turned over to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office on a 20-year-old marijuana possession charge, but local prosecutors dropped the charge and the sheriff’s office released him under the city’s sanctuary policy. At the time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had asked that he be held for deportation, the AP reported.

Federal officials have said the gun belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger and had been stolen in a break-in of the ranger’s car. Lopez Sanchez has told media he found the gun and it accidentally went off.

Deportations are an issue that have been troublesome for President Barack Obama and has at times rocked his relationship with some Latino and immigrant leaders. It was not too long ago when the president of the National Council of La Raza – to whom Clinton will speak next week – called Obama the “deporter in chief.”

But some supporters of immigration reform in law enforcement have also tried to limit their role in immigration enforcement to ensure trust in immigrant communities so they report crimes and assist as witnesses.