Getting to the truth about Steinle’s murder starts with asking the right questions

Posted earlier today on The Hill Congress Blog

By David Leopold2015-07-20 Lopez-Sanchez deported2

Kathryn Steinle’s tragic murder in San Francisco, allegedly by Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national who entered the country illegally, has understandably led to many questions. But Republican politicians—from Donald Trump to Rep. Steve King (Iowa)—are largely focusing on the wrong ones.

They are cynically seizing upon Kathryn Steinle’s murder to malign San Francisco’s so-called “Sanctuary City” policy, and all immigrants in the bargain. They are driving the narrative that Lopez-Sanchez fled to San Francisco because he wanted to avoid deportation. This is not only wrong on the facts—Lopez-Sanchez did not “flee” to San Francisco, he was brought there in handcuffs—but it fails to hold the federal Bureau of Prisons officials accountable for releasing him to the San Francisco Sheriff’s authorities, without determining whether the county prosecutor intended to follow through on the old drug warrant. And it fails to hold ICE responsible for not trying harder to deport Sanchez-Lopez the moment they had the opportunity.

San Francisco was only the last place that Lopez-Sanchez ended up, yet all the focus has been on the City. The fact is, the Federal government had Sanchez-Lopez in their clutches, with all the tools they needed to deport him, but for some reason they did not.
Of course, not everyone who has a prior deportation on his record should be an enforcement priority. I know many good, hard-working immigrants who have immigration violations from the past and still deserve a chance at the American Dream. But Lopez-Sanchez wasn’t here to build a life as an “immigrant.” He was a criminal with drug and mental health problems who was essentially living in our federal prisons on illegal reentry convictions. That should have been clear to anyone who reviewed his case, and the public has the right to know what went wrong here.

Here are the unasked and unanswered questions that members of Congress should be focused on:

Under existing Obama administration enforcement guidelines, Lopez-Sanchez should have been a top priority. Why wasn’t he treated as such?

Why did the federal Bureau of Prisons release Sanchez-Lopez to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in March 2015, instead of sending him to ICE, which had reportedly requested him?

Did the federal bureaucracy, including BOP and ICE, communicate with each other about Sanchez-Lopez? If not, why not?

Following his 2011 conviction for illegal re-entry, Lopez-Sanchez was ordered to be sent to a “federal medical facility as soon as possible.” Was he? Did he receive mental health support?

Why didn’t BOP or ICE take the time to consider whether the San Francisco County Prosecutor would actually follow through on the 20 year-old drug warrant before releasing him from Federal custody—knowing full well that it’s far easier to deport someone when they are in your grasp than when they are not?

Why weren’t federal law enforcement authorities all over Sanchez-Lopez as his prison release date approached in March of this year?  After all, he is the poster-villain for why American needs fair and smart enforcement of its immigration laws. Given Lopez-Sanchez’s twenty-year record of disrespecting the law, and 16 year and ½ month stint in Federal prison, you would think that deporting him as soon as possible would have been a priority.

The immigration laws passed by Congress—which are designed to be harsh on felons like Lopez-Sanchez—gave ICE the authority to get rid of him as soon as his Federal prison sentence was complete. As a felon who illegally reentered the U.S. he was likely under a final order of removal. If standard removal order reinstatement procedure was followed after his arrest on the federal illegal reentry charge there was no need to go to an immigration judge for a deportation order. It was already in place, waiting to be implemented. And the deportation of Sanchez-Lopez would have been in line with the Department of Homeland Security’s stated enforcement policies, which prioritize the deportation of people who are convicted of multiple, serious felonies.

Ironically, these are the very same deportation guidelines that Republicans in Congress have opposed. It’s no wonder they don’t want to draw attention to that fact and the truth about this case—because they actually, honestly oppose prioritizing enforcement on the worst of the worst. Instead, they want to send immigration agents out after anyone and everyone.

Republicans’ policy of “full enforcement” treats everyone—immigrant workers and convicted felons—as a priority. If they had their way, the government would have less resources to go after bad guys because they’d be spending more resources going after ordinary folks–and you’d have more people like Lopez-Sanchez falling through the cracks.

Everyone wants to live in a safe community—and yes, that includes immigrants. But some of the Republican ideas on the table today would make communities less secure. Our policies should be based on facts, not fear. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Kathryn Steinle’s killer, but they point to a Federal breakdown and a Federal solution, not strong-arming state and local police.

Before members of Congress attempt to legislate false “solutions” that undercut community policing or treat all immigrants like dangerous felons, they should heed the words of Dayton Police Chief Richard S. Biehl who recently wrote in The Hill Congress Blog:

Having state and local law enforcement take on the work of federal immigration officials undermines community policing and is counterproductive. When state and local law enforcement are entangled in these functions, immigrant communities view them with increased suspicion.

Republicans claim to be tough on criminals, but they oppose the Obama administration’s deportation priorities and oppose comprehensive immigration reform, which would have increased enforcement while dealing smartly with immigrants who are threats to no one. They want to force local police to become immigration agents and undermine their relationships with members of the immigrant community. If some good can come from Kathryn Steinle’s murder, it has to be based on a sober review of the actual facts. To date, Republican proposals are sensational, off-target, and seriously dangerous. We can and must do better than that.

Leopold is former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

What the #Immigration Executive Actions Mean for You and Your Family: 8 Things You Need to Know

Originally posted on Huffington Post

Last week President Obama announced he will take series of executive actions designed to strengthen the border, hold undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents accountable by giving them a chance to register, pass criminal background checks and pay taxes. The Administration also plans to use the existing immigration law to promote investment and make the immigration system work better until Congress finally passes immigration reform.

1. There’s Nothing to Apply for Yet And Immigrants Should Be Careful Not to Get Scammed.

While the President has a released a broad outline of his immigration executive actions, the details, including the application process, have not been finalized. In other words, there is nothing to apply for yet and potential applicants should heed the warning posted on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s website:

Important notice: These initiatives have not yet been implemented, and USCIS is not accepting any requests or applications at this time. Beware of anyone who offers to help you submit an application or a request for any of these actions before they are available. You could become a victim of an immigration scam.

2. The Deferred Action Program Will Apply Only to The Undocumented Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents.

Perhaps the most dramatic of the executive actions is the President’s decision to offer a temporary deportation reprieve — formally known as Deferred Action — to undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children.

The intent is to give parents a chance to come out of the shadows and get right with the law — register, pass criminal background checks and pay taxes.

To qualify an applicant will have to show, among other things, that he/she has been in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010, and is the parent of a citizen or lawful permanent resident born on or before November 20, 2014. The Administration hopes to have the application process in place within 180 days.

3. DACA Will Be Expanded To Make More DREAMERs Eligible.

Two years ago Mr. Obama offered a temporary deportation reprieve to qualified undocumented youth who had arrived in the U.S. as children. The process, known asDeferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, brought hundreds of thousands of DREAMERs out of the shadows so they could work and study. To be eligible a DREAMER had to show, among other things, that he/she had arrived before June 15, 2007 and been in the U.S. and under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. While the process was a game changer for many DREAMERs, others did not qualify because of the entry deadline and age cap.

The executive actions will extend the entry requirement to June 1, 2010 and remove the age cap, permitting many more DREAMERs qualify for a temporary 3 year reprieve from deportation.

While the expanded DACA program is not yet in place, it is expected that the USCIS will begin receiving applications within 90 days.

4. Provisional Family Unity Waivers Will Be Expanded to Included the Undocumented Husbands and Wives Of Lawful Permanent Residents.

Most people think that if an undocumented immigrant marries a U.S. citizen or lawful resident he/she can get a green card. That’s both right and wrong. Many undocumented immigrants who qualify for a visa must apply at a U.S. consulate abroad, not from within the US. But when they leave the U.S. to apply, another part of the law bans them from returning for up to ten years.

The pain of this legal Catch-22 was eased somewhat in 2013 when the Obama Administration tweaked the application process so that undocumented husbands and wives of U.S. citizens could apply for family unity waivers before traveling abroad. The change spared many American families from prolonged separation from their loved one she traveled abroad and waited — sometimes for years — for the waiver to be processed.

The executive actions announced last week tweak the Family Unity Waiver process a bit more by a permitting undocumented spouses of lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to apply for waivers before departing the U.S, shielding many more American families from the pain of prolonged separation. The change will also save tax dollars by making the visa processing system more efficient and reducing the burden on government agencies.

5. Family Unity Will (Hopefully) Become the Rule Rather Than the Exception.

Some immigrants that are eligible for green cards first have to prove that their deportation would impose “extreme hardship” on their U.S. citizen or lawful resident spouse, parent or child.

The executive actions promise a new interpretation of “extreme hardship” which, hopefully, will recognize that separating parents from (American) children or spouses from (American) spouses is, by nature, an “extreme hardship.” A pro-family interpretation of the standard would ensure that, absent negative factors, more families remain whole.

Stay tuned on this one.

6. Immigrants With Green Card Applications or Other Temporary Status May Travel Abroad With Greater Assurance of Their Ability to Return.

The legal Catch-22 that keeps husbands and wives separated from their families for up to 10 years after foreign travel can also bar immigrants with lawful green card applications or other temporary status — even if they traveled home to visit an elderly parent or attend a funeral with advance permission (parole) from the Department of Homeland Security.

The President’s executive actions will give greater assurances to immigrants that they will be permitted to return to the U.S. and complete their pending green card applications or continue their authorized presence after necessary foreign travel on advance parole.

7. Existing Law Will Be Used to Expand Opportunities for Business, Investment and Job Creation.

The executive actions will include efforts to strengthen the economy and create jobs for U.S. workers by enhancing options for foreign entrepreneurs, attracting investment and generating tax revenue to ensure economic growth and extending existing post-graduate training programs for science, technology, engineering and math graduates of U.S universities. The Administration will also look for ways to improve the legal immigration system by reducing government costs, reducing burdens on employers and families and eliminating fraud.

8. The President’s Immigration Executive Actions Are An Important First Step, But They Are Not A Substitute Congressional Action.

The actions Mr. Obama has taken to make the immigration system work better are a bold and courageous (and yes-solidly legal) use of his lawful authority as President of the United States. But only Congress has the power to fix the antiquated, rigid and outdated immigration policy that plagues this country, devastates families, stymies American business and inhibits job creation.

We can only hope that amid the calls for lawsuits and legislation to block the President’s executive actions Republican congressional leaders will find the guts to do the right thing by the American People.

In #Immigration Reform, “Citizenship Matters”

Reblogged from Congress Blog

As Congress reconvenes this week perhaps the thorniest question–in an immigration policy debate full of thorny questions–is whether the House, like the Senate, should include a special path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants as part of an immigration reform package.  Or, given the political realities of the GOP-dominated House, is a special path to citizenship worth conceding if it leads to some form of lawful status for undocumented immigrants who qualify?

Some, including even some supporters of immigration reform, argue that access to U.S. citizenship isn’t important.  Undocumented immigrants, they say, just want to live, work, and raise their children without fear of deportation.  If they had to choose, so the argument goes, most would opt for legal immigrant status over citizenship.

There may be some truth to that. But the choice between legal status and citizenship is a false one.

A homeless person asked to choose between regular food and shelter or the opportunity to eventually own a home is likely to opt for the warm meal and a place to sleep every night.  His choice of temporary shelter doesn’t mean he will not dream of one day owning his own home.  To the contrary, once he’s warm and satiated he (and society as a whole) will be better off if he begins to pursue opportunities that lead to home ownership.

Similarly, an unauthorized immigrant, living in constant fear of arrest, detention, deportation and banishment from his family, may long for a secure, lawful immigration status in the U.S., not necessarily U.S. citizenship.  But once he is permitted to come out of the shadows the contributions he will be able to make will increase as he will likely increase his income through legal work, participate openly in his children’s activities, and pay additional taxes on top of those he is currently paying.  Once he is able to do all of those things free from fear, when his immediate needs have been fulfilled, he may then want to become a U.S. citizen, taking on the responsibilities (like jury duty) along with the honor and privileges.

Nor is a path to citizenship just about what’s good for the immigrant.  It’s important to the Nation.  The naturalization process includes background checks and other examinations of an immigrant’s record in the U.S. Immigrants who choose to apply for citizenship must prove they have good moral character, demonstrate knowledge of civics and history, show English Language proficiency, establish attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, and swear an oath of allegiance to the U.S.

Suppose immigration reform passes with no special path to earned citizenship?  What happens in 10, 20, or 30 years when millions of noncitizens living lawfully in the U.S. are ineligible for U.S. citizenship, not able to swear loyalty to a nation they call home?  Even the Supreme Court has long recognized the tenuous nature of legal residence without citizenship:

“Under our law, the alien in several respects stands on an equal footing with citizens, but in others has never been conceded legal parity with the citizen. Most importantly, to protract this ambiguous status within the country is not his right but is a matter of permission and tolerance. The Government’s power to terminate its hospitality has been asserted and sustained by this Court since the question first arose.”  Harisiades  v.  Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580 (1952)

Make no mistake, citizenship is much more than a legal status.  It’s an immigrant’s admission to the American family.  Naturalization ceremonies across the U.S. include a beautiful mosaic of people from different cultures, customs, backgrounds and experiences.  What binds these diverse individuals is a common belief in the promise of America and faithfulness to the principles upon which our country was founded.

In overhauling the immigration law, Congress should include a path to citizenship for those who choose to pursue it.  The Senate’s road will take 13 years for most immigrants; that is a huge investment of time and energy into the America we love.  Failure to do so risks creation of a subclass of people lawfully in the country but unable to reach the heart of the American Dream.

Allowing immigrants to become Americans is one aspect of immigration policy that we have gotten right, and it has served us well (in contrast to other countries that limit citizenship based on country of birth).

Immigration reform should build on what we have done well, not undermine it.

Leopold is former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

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