Calif. officials demand changes to sanctuary city policy after repeat felon kills 2 people at church

Grace Baptist Church
Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, California |

The mayor and the police chief of San Jose are calling for changes to Santa Clara County's sanctuary city policy — that protects low-priority undocumented immigrants from deportation — after a suspect, who's also a repeat felon, carried out a stabbing attack at Grace Baptist Church that left two killed and three seriously injured.

“Currently, the Santa Clara County policy prohibits responding to immigration detainers, which allowed the suspect to be released,” Police Chief Eddie Garcia said at a news conference days after the Nov. 22 stabbing incident, according to The Epoch Times.

The police chief said there was a need for a more balanced approach to the criminal justice system and to notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a violent undocumented immigrant is released into the community.

The accused, 32-year-old Fernando De Jesus Lopez-Garcia, who had been arrested twice last year and released on unknown dates without any notification being sent to ICE, was charged with two murder counts, three counts of attempted murder, battery on a spouse or cohabitant and violating a protective order.

The “sanctuary” movement started in the 1980s when some churches gave refuge to Central American migrants who feared deportation after fleeing civil unrest in their region. Since then, the states, cities or counties that made laws or policies with varying levels of protection to prevent ICE from arresting immigrants at risk of deportation began to be loosely termed as sanctuary states, cities or counties.

“In those very rare circumstances where an undocumented offender has a record of violent or serious prior convictions, the county should be acting in accordance with the state’s Values Act, and notifying ICE that a person will be released out into the community unless ICE responds,” Mayor Sam Liccardo was quoted as saying.

The California Values Act prevents state and local resources from helping the federal government carry out mass deportations.

“In this case, I’m told that the county received an ICE detainer request but did not notify ICE of the defendant’s release,” Liccardo added.

Grace Baptist Church runs a faith-based winter program in the gymnasium and basement of the church for “the forgotten and vulnerable,” according to its website. Senior Pastor David Robinson told NBC Bay Area after the Nov. 22 attack that one of the stabbing victims was a shelter worker trying to intervene in a dispute that erupted among four others who were staying there. He did not provide any further details.

“These individuals that were involved in this tragedy last night, they’re our brothers and sisters,” Robinson told the news station.

The San Jose Police Department reported at the time that at approximately 7:54 p.m. on Nov. 22, officers responded to a report of a stabbing at the Grace Baptist Church on the 400 block of East San Fernando Street. When they arrived, they found five victims suffering from at least one stab wound each. An adult male victim was pronounced dead at the scene while an adult female succumbed to her injuries at a local hospital.

A beloved volunteer, Nguyen Pham, was identified as one of the surviving victims.

Pham is an advocate for the homeless and “community hero,” says a Go Fund Me campaign seeking to raise $30,000 to help cover his medical bills.

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