Steinle verdict makes San Francisco focus of immigration ire

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The attacks on San Francisco and other cities with similar immigration policies began moments after a jury acquitted the man charged with killing Kate Steinle of murder and manslaughter.

President 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 local officials from cooperating with federal deportation efforts.

Thousands of Twitter users vowed to #BoycottSanFrancisco.

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

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was released from San Francisco’s jail despite a federal request to detain him for deportation several weeks before Steinle was killed on July 1, 2015.

He had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when Steinle was fatally shot in the back in 2015. Garcia Zarate said the shooting was an accident, a defense the jury appeared to believe. San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia argued the shooting was a first-degree murder.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Thamos Homan says San Francisco’s policy of refusing to honor federal immigration detainers “is a blatant threat to public safety.”

The San Francisco jury did convict Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Steinle was shot while walking with her father and a family friend on a San Francisco pier popular with tourists. Garcia Zarate said he was sitting on the pier when he found a gun under a chair. He said the gun was wrapped in a T-shirt and accidentally fired when he picked it up.

Before the shooting, Garcia Zarate had finished a federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the United States and had been transferred to San Francisco’s jail in March 2015 to face a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana.

The sheriff’s department released him a few days after prosecutors dropped the marijuana charge, despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for deportation.

“San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday night. “I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers.”

San Francisco is known as a “sanctuary city” because its policies bar local police from helping federal authorities identify and deport immigrants that came to the U.S. illegally.

President Barack Obama continued his Republican predecessor’s policy which allowed federal immigration officials to request local law enforcement detain for up to 48 hours people suspected of living in the country illegally. But, in 2014, a federal judge ruled the practice of holding them without a warrant was likely unconstitutional.

At the time of the shooting, then-candidate Trump and others pointed to Steinle’s death as reasons why the country’s immigration laws should be tightened.

In a pre-dawn tweet Friday, the president blamed Democrats, saying: “The Schumer/Pelosi Democrats are so weak on Crime that they will pay a price in the 2018 and 2020 Elections.” He was referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.