Home Columnists California Officer's Shooting Death Puts Sanctuary City Policies Under Scrutiny

California Officer's Shooting Death Puts Sanctuary City Policies Under Scrutiny

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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security

On Dec.26, Officer Ronil Singh with the Newman (CA) Police Department pulled over a suspect just before 1 AM that morning. A few moments later, he called out “shot fired” over the radio, according to CNN. Emergency responders transported Singh to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. A manhunt began for his shooter, and on Dec. 29, police arrested in illegal immigrant from Mexico – a gang member with a criminal history. Now, members of the law enforcement community are saying Singh’s death could have been prevented if it were not for sanctuary city policies.

California Values Act

The suspect arrested in Kern, CA by sheriff’s deputies was identified as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, a 33 year-old Mexican citizen residing in California illegally and thought to be fleeing to Mexico when he was pulled over. Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christiansen told CNN that Arriaga had been previously arrested twice for DUIs and has a known gang affiliation. Several other people were arrested for aiding and abetting Arriaga, at least two of which were residing in the U.S. illegally. At a press conference, Christiansen stated that Singh’s murder could have been avoided because California legislation prohibited his department “from sharing any information with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] about this criminal gang member.”

California SB 54, also known as the California Values Act (informally as the Sanctuary State bill), became law in 2017. According to ABC 10 News, the Act says that state and local law enforcement (in California) “are not allowed to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.” Fundamentally, that means that even if a police officer knows an individual with a criminal history (or arrested for allegedly committing a crime) is in the country illegally, he or she is prohibited from referring that individual to ICE for deportation.

“This is a criminal illegal alien with prior criminal activity that should have been reported to ICE,” Christianson said at the press conference. “Law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws and that led to the encounter with Officer Singh. I’m suggesting that the outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited or had their hands tied because of political interference.”

Nationwide Sanctuary Cities

According to the Washington Post, there are approximately 60 sanctuary cities around the country. These are cities that have passed laws instructing local law enforcement to refuse cooperation with the federal government in enforcing federal immigration laws. Part of the argument is that the federal government does not provide additional funding to these local law enforcement agencies for the additional time and manpower required for the work. The other part is that enforcing immigration laws at the local level discourages illegal immigrant residents from reporting crime to local police out of fear of deportation.

One of the most publicized cases of an illegal immigrant murdering a U.S. citizen in a sanctuary city was the shooting death of 31 year-old Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco in 2015. According to the Washington Post, she was shot in the upper torso as she walked with her father at a popular tourist destination. A man was arrested an hour later, and it turned out that the Mexican national had seven felony conviction stretching back to 1991. He had also been deported from the U.S. five times. San Francisco authorities released him from custody in April 2015 after drug charges against him were dropped, despite an urgent request from DHS that he be deported. ICE publicly admonished San Francisco officials for ignoring their request for a heads-up before letting Steinle’s killer go.

Illegal Immigration Convictions

Statistics still show that illegal immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens. According to a study by the Cato Institute from 2015, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than native-born Americans in Texas during that year. The criminal conviction rate for illegal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate. The data showed similar patterns for violent crimes such homicide and property crimes such as larceny. According to a separate study by the journal Criminology, states with larger shares of illegal immigrants tended to have lower crime rates than states with smaller shares in the years 1990 through 2014.

Despite these statistics, the current political climate and immigration crisis along the southwest border makes tragedies like the murder of Officer Singh ripe for politicization by those looking for reasons to crack down further on illegal immigration.

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