Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that the Obama administration shares responsibility with San Francisco authorities for the release of the illegal immigrant with an extensive criminal record who allegedly killed a woman on a city sidewalk.
Francisco Sanchez, of Mexico, allegedly killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle in a random shooting attack Wednesday in San Francisco.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials argued in the aftermath that San Francisco authorities were responsible for Sanchez being on the streets.
The officials said that upon turning Sanchez over to local authorities on March 26 on a drug charge they also issued a detainer -- a request to be notified of Sanchez’s release and that he stay in custody until immigration authorities could get him.
“The federal government and San Francisco are wrong here,” Goodlatte told ABC’s “This Week.” “There's fault to be borne by both.”
He argued that administration officials knew that San Francisco was one of roughly 140 so-called Sanctuary Cities across the country in which local money cannot be spent to cooperate with federal immigration law.
“Why did they ever turn him over to (San Francisco) when they could have deported him?” Goodlatte asked.
Federal officials also could have tried to get a conviction on Sanchez for purportedly entering the United States illegally on numerous occasions to get him into prison, he argued.
“Either way, Kate Steinle would be safe,” Goodlatte said.
Sanchez was instead booked into the San Francisco County Jail from federal prison, according to a statement from the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which operates the jail.
He also had seven prior felony convictions before allegedly killing Steinle at a busy San Francisco tourist destination, federal authorities said.
Freya Horne, counsel for the sheriff's office, said Friday that federal detention orders are not a legal basis to hold someone, so the 45-year-old Sanchez was released April 15 after the drug charges were dropped.
She also said the city does not turn over people who are in the country illegally unless there's an active warrant for their arrest and that local authorities checked and found none.
ICE could have issued an active warrant if it wanted the city to keep him, Horne also said.
"It's not legal to hold someone on a request to detain,” she said. “This is not just us. This is a widely adopted position."
Still, Goodlatte argued why would San Francisco authorities release somebody back onto their streets who is in the U.S. illegally and had committed seven prior felonies when they could have contacted ICE and turned him back over to them for deportation.
Steinle was gunned down while out for an evening stroll with her father along the waterfront. Police said witnesses heard no argument or dispute before the shooting, suggesting it was a random attack.
Goodlatte also said the detainer law was enforced by the Bush administration as being mandatory. However, the Obama administration has converted that into “something voluntary.”
He said one consequence is the administration ended a program known as Secure Communities in which criminal illegal immigrants like Sanchez would be detained and turned over to the immigration service.
“In addition to that, this administration is releasing criminals back onto the streets themselves,” Goodlatte said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.