(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is criticizing the Obama administration for "releasing criminals back onto the streets."
He was talking about the murder of a 32-year-old woman in San Francisco last Wednesday, allegedly by an illegal alien with seven felony convictions who had been deported five times to Mexico.
Because San Francisco is a "sanctuary city," local authorities did not honor a U.S. Customs and Enforcement Agency detainer for Francisco Sanchez. The detainer could have kept Sanchez in jail until ICE officials picked him up.
Kathryn Steinle was shot last Wednesday evening for no apparent reason while walking with her father and a family friend in a waterfront area popular with tourists.
Goodlatte called it a "tragedy."
"Well, both the government -- the federal government and San Francisco are wrong here," Goodlatte told ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
"And George, let me say at the outset what a tragedy for this family. My heart goes out to them, but quite frankly the federal government, ICE, knows about San Francisco's sanctuary policy. It's a bad policy, but they know about it.
"Why did they ever turn him over to them when they could have deported him, or they could have prosecuted him for illegally reentering the country four times and send him to prison? Either way, Kate Steinle would be safe."
"The fact of the matter is, San Francisco -- why would they release somebody back onto their streets who is illegally in the United States and has committed seven prior felonies when they could have contacted ICE and turned him back over to them for deportation? And again, she would have been safe. It's a real tragedy."
According to the Associated Press, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) turned Sanchez over to authorities in San Francisco on March 26 on an outstanding drug warrant.
But the Sheriff's Department released Sanchez on April 15 after the San Francisco district attorney's office declined to prosecute him for a ten-year-old marijuana possession case.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the AP that ICE had issued a detainer for Sanchez, requesting notification of his release and that he stay in custody until immigration authorities could pick him up. But the detainer was not honored, she said.
Freya Horne, counsel for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, said Friday that federal detention requests are not sufficient to hold someone. Under the city's sanctuary ordinance, people in the country illegally aren't handed over to immigration officials unless there's a warrant for their arrest.
Local officials said they checked and found no warrants. ICE could have issued an active warrant if it wanted the city to keep Sanchez jailed, Horne said.
On Sunday, Stephanopoulos asked Goodlatte if federal law should require sanctuary cities such as San Francisco to turn over those who have een deported in the past or charged with crimes:
"The policy regarding detainers, which is the law of the United States, was enforced by the Bush administration as being mandatory. The Obama administration has converted that into something voluntary. And in doing so, they have eliminated a program that was working called Secure Communities, where individuals like this would be detained and would be turned over to the immigration service.
"Now, in addition to that, this administration is releasing criminals back onto the streets themselves. So there's fault to be borne by both," Goodlatte said.
Goodlatte said the law must be enfored.
He also refuted the Obama administration's claim that deportations of criminals are way up:
"They are not deporting people in the numbers that have been deported in the past and they're counting people that they apprehend at the border and turn back around.
The Bush administration did not count those as deportations. They simply apprehended them at the border, sent them back into Mexico. That didn't count as deportation.
"The Obama administration has started counting those, and that has driven those numbers up. But the actual deportations from the interior of the country are way down. This administration is not enforcing our immigration laws and, quite frankly, I don't think they care.
And this is -- this tragedy in San Francisco, which is repeated every day around the country and doesn't get this kind of notoriety is the product of that lack of caring about respect for the rule of law and enforcing our laws."
(The Associated Press contributed some of the information that appears in this report.)