Pittsburgh-area GOP candidates seize on sanctuary city issue as ‘electoral weapon’ |
Politics Election

Pittsburgh-area GOP candidates seize on sanctuary city issue as ‘electoral weapon’

Wesley Venteicher
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Paul Mango

Republican Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango attacked the protections sanctuary cities provide immigrants in a Friday morning Twitter post.

In a short video, Mango mentioned a San Francisco jury’s Thursday acquittal of a man charged with first-degree murder in the 2015 death of a 32-year-old woman. The defendant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, had been deported five times and was back in the city when she was shot. Zarate said he had fired the weapon accidentally, according to the Associated Press.

Mango said the man would not have been in the city had San Francisco cooperated more closely with federal immigration authorities.

“As your next governor I will guarantee you this: We are not going to tolerate sanctuary cities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Mango said in the video, filmed after what he said was his morning jog.

The sanctuary city designation generally refers to cities that limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Philadelphia is a designated sanctuary city, while Pittsburgh has an “unbiased policing” policy that prohibits officers from asking residents about immigration status but lets them help federal agencies track down immigrants with criminal warrants.

Mango did not go into detail in the video about actions he would take against sanctuary cities, and did not immediately respond to an interview request Friday.

Supporters of stronger sanctuary city protections for Pittsburgh have said threats of deportation make immigrants reluctant to report crime or call for emergency medical help. They have said most immigrants are hard-working people seeking safe harbor, and are no more likely than regular citizens to commit crimes.

President Donald Trump, who made illegal immigration a major campaign issue, weighed in on Thursday’s verdict on Twitter, calling it a “complete travesty of justice” and renewing his call for a border wall.

Regional Republicans are making sanctuary city protections a campaign issue.

Rick Saccone, a state representative from Elizabeth who is running in a special election race for Congress, published a video on the topic Thursday. Saccone said in the video that he supports legislation to get rid of state grants for sanctuary cities and to guarantee access to jailed immigrant suspects for federal agents.

“It’s time we support our law enforcement agencies and end this lawless practice,” he said.

State Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, touched on the issue in a re-election announcement Tuesday, calling sanctuary city designations a “reckless practice.”

“That’s something on the Republican side that is used as an electoral weapon,” said Philip Harold, a professor of political science at Robert Morris University.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, drummed on the issue in his successful campaign for U.S. Senate last year. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie successfully used the issue to gain an edge over a primary opponent before losing in the general election last month, Harold said.

“Whether or not it is necessarily a huge social problem, it’s kind of the idea of it as a problem” that appeals to voters, he said.

Proposals in both chambers of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly would eliminate state grants for sanctuary cities.

Mango is campaigning against three other candidates in the Republican primary race for governor.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, cast his first vote against sanctuary cities in 2015 and continues to oppose them, campaign spokesman Jeff Coleman said.

“He’s taken the long, strategic, tactical approach that really ends incentives and rewards for cities that embrace illegal immigration,” Coleman said.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, is a co-sponsor of the Senate sanctuary cities bill.

“Scott not only says that he opposes sanctuary cities but has a record of doing something about them,” spokesman Jason High said in an email.

A campaign spokesman for Laura Ellsworth, a Pittsburgh-based attorney seeking the GOP nomination, didn’t respond to a request for information.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office did not respond to requests for comment by deadline Friday.

San Francisco was one of the first U.S. cities to adopt a sanctuary law in 1989, and will remain one, according to the AP.

Trump campaigned on the San Francisco case, revolving around the death of Kate Steinle, who was walking with her father on a pier when she was shot in the back. Garcia Zarate said he found the gun under a chair and accidentally fired it when he picked it up.

Jurors rejected murder charges but convicted him of a firearms charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. He has already served two years in jail and federal authorities have said they will deport him, according to the AP.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, [email protected] or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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