Don't blame all immigrants for San Francisco shooting

san francisco pier shooting confession simon_00000921
san francisco pier shooting confession simon_00000921

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Story highlights

  • Raul Reyes: Kate Steinle was shot in San Francisco; man arrested in shooting was undocumented immigrant felon
  • It's wrong to smear immigrants as dangerous because of one man; immigrants serve in military, have performed heroic acts, he says
  • Reyes: Tragedy shows need to smartly aim enforcement not at hardworking Latinos, but those immigrants who threaten public safety

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)As the nation was preparing for the July Fourth weekend, there was grim news from San Francisco. On Wednesday night, Kate Steinle, 31, was fatally shot, apparently randomly, while walking with her father on a busy pier. A Mexican immigrant, who CNN reported was in the country without documentation, was arrested in her death.

Raul Reyes
Illegally re-entering the country after being deported, as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is said to have done, is a federal felony. He has also been accused of a horrific, violent crime. And according to immigration authorities, he has seven other felony convictions, including four for drug offenses.
But that doesn't make him a symbol of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Nor is he the poster boy for out-of-control illegal immigration across our southern border (illegal immigration from Mexico is at a 40-year low). He does not represent the overwhelming majority of immigrants in this country -- legal or otherwise -- who are productive members of society.
    Lopez-Sanchez is simply a dangerous individual who should not have been free and among us.
    It is a myth that increased illegal immigration leads to more crime. Research from the Immigration Policy Center shows that crime rates fell in the United States as the size of our immigrant population, including undocumented immigrants, grew from 1990 to 2010.
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    The Washington Post just analyzed Donald Trump's recent comments about Mexican immigrants being drug dealers and "rapists" and found that he was wrong about immigrants and crime. Remember, being in the country without authorization is not a crime -- it is a civil infraction.
    Most undocumented immigrants come to the United States to work and provide a better life for themselves and their families.
    Consider that several mass shootings, from Aurora to Newtown to Charleston, were committed by young white men. Does that mean that all young white men are potential mass murderers? Of course not.
    The same news outlets that are now trumpeting Wednesday's murder as proof that undocumented immigrants are criminals often overlook or ignore other stories of undocumented immigrants who are genuine heroes. In 2013, an undocumented immigrant rescued a mother and her child on Staten Island, New York, amidst the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy.
    In 2011, an undocumented immigrant in New Mexico saved a 6-year-old girl from an attempted kidnapping. One of the first Americans killed in Iraq in 2003 was an immigrant from Guatemala who came to the United States illegally.
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    One takeaway from this episode is that deporting as many undocumented immigrants as possible is not the answer to our immigration problems. Lopez-Sanchez had been deported five times, and yet he was still here in the country without authorization.
    Back in 2011, the deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told an immigration subcommittee of Congress that it costs $12,500 to deport a person. Multiply this by five and that is how much taxpayer money was wasted on a criminal who remained at large to randomly take the life of an innocent young woman.
    Another lesson here is our country does not need more immigration enforcement; our country needs smarter and better immigration enforcement. Up to now, immigration authorities have wasted time, manpower and money chasing after people working productively in their communities as, say, gardeners and maids, while felons like Lopez-Sanchez slipped through the cracks.
    That's why it was good news last week that the Department of Homeland Security announced it is rethinking its deportation priorities to focus on recent arrivals and serious criminals.
    This move is a step in the right direction, because it is time to start seriously targeting those immigrants who are a real threat to public safety. The government will be focusing its enforcement efforts on three categories of people: convicted criminals, recent border crossers and terrorism threats.
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    True, Lopez-Sanchez should not have been in the country, or he should have at least been behind bars. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement erred in not seeking a warrant or court order for his arrest and he was released in accordance with city law in March.
    What's more, President Barack Obama's proposed executive action on immigration, currently tied up in a legal battle, might also have made a difference because it would have freed up resources to go after people like Lopez-Sanchez.
    The executive action would have given deportation relief to parents of DREAMers, while allowing DHS to zero in on criminals. Instead, despite the fact that our country spends more on immigration enforcement than all other law enforcement agencies combined, our system failed Kate Steinle.
    Although Steinle's death was a tragedy, it was the alleged action of one man. All undocumented immigrants do not deserve to be vilified by false association.