An undocumented immigrant suspected of killing a woman at a San Francisco pier said he chose the city for its sanctuary policies -- that is, he knew San Francisco was a good place to avoid deportation, he told ABC station KGO-TV.
In an exclusive jailhouse interview, a KGO-TV reporter asked Francisco Sanchez, the alleged gunman, "Did you keep coming back to San Francisco because you knew that they wouldn't actively look for you to deport you?" and Sanchez responded, "Yes."
Sanchez, who has been deported five times, told KGO-TV he started wandering on Pier 14 on Wednesday after taking sleeping pills he found in a dumpster. He said he then picked up a gun that he found and it went off.
Kate Steinle, 32, who was walking the pier with her father, was shot dead, authorities said, noting that Sanchez, 45, was arrested an hour later.
Sanchez, who was on probation in Texas at the time of the shooting, served time in federal prison for repeatedly sneaking back into the country, authorities said.
Sanchez told KGO-TV that he kept coming back to the country because he was "looking for jobs in the restaurant or roofing, landscaping, or construction." He said he knew San Francisco was a sanctuary city where he would not be pursued by immigration officials.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had said in a statement that Sanchez was turned over to the San Francisco Police Department this past March on an outstanding drug warrant, and that the department requested that police notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement prior to his release so ICE officers could make arrangements to take custody.
However, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department said that it had no "legal basis" to hold Sanchez based on a federal immigration detainer, according to the Associated Press. A lawyer for the sheriff's department told the AP the city only turns over illegal immigrants if there's an active warrant for their arrest, so on April 15, after the local drug case closed, Sanchez was released.
In a statement today, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said the city's sanctuary policy "should not create a safe harbor for convicted, violent felons."
Lee added, "Our city’s policy helps immigrant and limited-English speaking communities where sometimes people fear and mistrust the criminal justice system. We want people to report crimes, we want children of undocumented immigrants to attend school, and we want families to get access to much needed social services without fear of their city government reporting them to Federal authorities."
Lee said he promised two years ago "to veto any legislation that completely eliminated the sheriff’s ability to make a case-by-case determination about honoring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers."
"I am concerned about the circumstances that led to the release of Mr. Sanchez," Lee's statement added. "All agencies involved, federal and local, need to conduct quick, thorough and objective reviews of their own departmental policies and the decisions they made in this case."
On Sunday, Steinle's brother told ABC News he will miss his sister's smile, kindness and warmth, and that he is heartbroken his sister won't get to meet his daughter, who is due in a few months.
Steinle's father and brother declined to comment to ABC News on Sunday regarding the suspect.
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help "the family continue to move forward and to support the causes close to Kate's heart," according to the page.