The tragic Kate Steinle case is back in the news, but this time with a hopeful note. In July 2015, five-time deported, seven-time convicted felon Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez shot 32-year-old Steinle dead in sanctuary city San Francisco. The senseless murder set off waves of outrage across the U.S., but not in Congress where partisan Democrats defeated bills to crack down on felony re-entry and sanctuary cities.
In a partial victory for Steinle’s family, a San Francisco judge allowed a negligence case against the federal government. Allegedly, a ranger left his gun in an unlocked car that illegal alien Sanchez-Lopez accessed. Lawsuits against the federal government are rarely successful.
Unfortunately, the judge dismissed the Steinle family’s claim that San Francisco should be held legally responsible for releasing Lopez-Sanchez without contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement so the agency could pick him up and deport him.
But with the Trump administration on the verge of entering the White House, and with Congress aware of his enforcement-oriented Cabinet, last year’s tough laws to crack down on illegal entry, ban sanctuary cities and defund noncompliant cities that were defeated have been re-introduced, and may earn enough support to pass.
U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) entered Kate’s Law into the 115th Congress. Calling Steinle’s murder a “100 percent preventable crime,” and noting that 18 months have passed since Kate’s death and that dozens of other innocent Americans have lost their lives at the hand of criminal aliens, King called the Obama administration’s failure to act “a disgrace.” Kate’s Law would impose a mandatory five year minimum sentence for felony reentry of previously removed aliens.
Another new bill, this one submitted by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Penn.), would withhold federal funds for a minimum one-year period to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Barletta said that his two previous efforts to pass such legislation, including once in 2015 immediately after Steinle’s death, failed because the political will to enact didn’t exist.
The big difference in what Rep. Barletta called political will is that in the current Congress 10 states that have Democratic senators who opposed Kate’s Law and the sanctuary bills will face re election in 2018. Five states – Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and West Virginia – voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Trump, by a comfortable margin, in 2016. Trump carried another five swing states – Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Politicians may not always be attuned to the public’s wants and needs, but they understand their own interests, namely staying in office.
The Steinle case is the most well-publicized sanctuary city fatality: an attractive young woman gunned down in mid-summer during broad daylight while visiting a popular San Francisco tourist venue with her father. But it’s only one of hundreds that never make it into the local daily newspaper. On his website, Rep. King has a partial list of confirmed crimes committed by previously deported felons that include murder, rape, kidnapping, vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving, drug trafficking, aggravated assault and prostitution. Many of the victims are pre-teens; most of the crimes were perpetrated in sanctuary cities.
Public safety should have bipartisan support. For reasons Americans don’t understand, it doesn’t. Votes to end sanctuary cities and to enact stricter immigration enforcement have been divided along party lines. But the Trump administration will, to Americans’ relief and the nation’s betterment, work hard to change previously closed congressional minds.
Joe Guzzardi is a Senior Writing Fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization. Contact him at