Washington (CNN)The father of Kate Steinle -- the 32-year-old who was murdered by an illegal immigrant on a San Francisco pier earlier this month -- joined other victims' family members and immigration officials in testifying before the Senate Judiciary committee to advocate for immigration reform on Tuesday.
Kate Steinle's father testifies before Senate panel
Kate Steinle was shot by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and previously convicted of seven other felonies, but was released by city authorities after drug charges were dropped.
"Kate was special in the way that she connected with people, we called it the Kate affect," Jim Steinle, Kate's father said.
San Francisco is one of a number of cities across the United States that calls itself a "Sanctuary City," which means it does not require its local officials to abide by federal immigration laws.
U.S. officials released more than 66,000 criminal immigrants between 2013-2014, said Sarah Saldana, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to the panel. However, she said, the agency does not release individuals "willy-nilly" and it is all according to federal law and professional discretion.
Saldana called on the senators to urge their local jurisdictions to abide by federal law.
"We're all in the same business, and that's public safety," Saldana said.
Laura Wilkerson -- whose son, Josh, was brutally murdered by an undocumented immigrant classmate -- also testified, denouncing sanctuary cities.
"Instead of getting Joshua home that day from school, we got an autopsy report," she said. "This was our families 911 terrorist attack by foreign invader, whether you want to recognize it or not."
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a co-pastor at the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition voiced the importance of fostering relationships and building trust within communities among members and law enforcement.
"In the midst of our collective grief, I pray we avoid criminalizing or casting collective blame on entire communities for the actions committed by one or even a small number of individuals," Salguero said.
The hearing came just a day after House GOP leaders scheduled to vote on legislation that would withhold federal money from local governments that are not willing to abide by the federal immigration practices.
Maryland's Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, expressed concern over this policy during his testimony stating that "immigration is a federal responsibility" and the federal assistance programs were designed to help local police, not for local law enforcement to take over federal responsibilities.