Yesterday, a jury acquitted Jose Inez Garcia Zarate of both murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Kate Steinle, while convicting him of a gun charge. Zarate was a seven-time felon who had been deported five times from the United States. ICE asked San Francisco to detain him but San Francisco is a sanctuary city. As he was neither facing a violent felony charge nor had violent felony convictions, he was released. While in the Embarcadero district, he picked up a gun and either fired it or had it accidentally go off. The bullet ricocheted and hit Steinle in the chest, severing her aorta and killing her. She was 32.
Naturally, there has been a lot of anger at the verdict, led by the Baby in Chief. But there are two very separate issues here.
First, I believe that the jury delivered the correct verdict. The death of Steinle, while horrifying, appears to have been an accident (or at least could not be proven one beyond a reasonable doubt). Zarate didn’t deliberately shoot her. And under California law, a voluntary manslaughter charge requires a deliberate act.
Second, there is the debate over sanctuary cities, multiple re-entry illegals, the wall and “Kate’s Law”. To me, this debate should be going on independent of the verdict of juries. We need to be thinking about the future, not trying to prevent the past. I’m mixed on a lot of this. I’m not happy with sanctuary cities which defy federal law for political reasons but many of the proposed solutions to his problem cross me as unconstitutional. Kate’s Law — which would impose mandatory minimum’s — strikes me as a potential disaster:
I’ve never seen any credible evidence that more prosecutions or higher sentences deter aliens from returning after deportation. Certainly an alien with a criminal record who is sitting in federal prison is not, at that moment, returning after another deportation and committing more crimes, but the system lacks the resources to make a statistically significant impact through such incarcerations, unless you’d like to pay a lot more in taxes, which you would not. And while you are incapacitating criminal aliens through mandatory-minimum incarceration you are not using those prosecutors, judges, or jail cells to incapacitate other criminals, including domestic criminals who offend at a higher rate.
Mandatory minimums, if applied rigorously, would therefore dramatically reduce federal immigration prosecutions. Of course, they wouldn’t be applied rigorously; they almost never are. Instead, the likely outcome is this: Congress would pass mandatory minimum laws covering some illegal reentries. Federal prosecutors would retain discretion of whether to charge aliens under those new statues or under existing statutes without mandatory minimums. Federal prosecutors would use that discretion the way they usually do — to coerce cooperation and guilty pleas. So the length of sentences for aliens returning after deportation wouldn’t increase; there would just be more prosecutorial power and discretion and somewhat quicker pleas. The impact of the law would be the opposite of how it is sold to the public.
Ultimately, what we need is comprehensive immigration reform. Streamline the immigration process for legal immigrants while improving enforcement of those laws. We’ve known this and needed this for 15 years. But every time it comes up, Republicans scream “amnesty”, Democrats scream “racism” and a compromise becomes impossible.
This is a bit personal for me. Many years ago, a close relative — who I’ll call Liz — was T-boned at an intersection by a truck full of illegal immigrants who blew through a red light. Her car careened into a telephone poll. She was not wearing her seat belt. The accident broke one of her high cervical vertebra. Fortunately, her spine was not severed or she would have died on the spot or been quadriplegic. But the injury has dogged her and will dog her for the rest of her life. The illegal immigrants vanished, leaving her insurance to cover the cost.
You can talk all day about how immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than American citizens or that they’re just here to work, etc. But those words mean nothing to someone who has had a loved one injured or, God forbid, killed by a person who should not have been in this country in the first place. Their anger and frustration over that is not racism. It’s not bigotry. It’s not white supremacy. It’s a normal reaction to tragedy that could have been avoided.
People are saying Kate would still be alive if we’d had a wall or if Obama had not been “weak” on immigration (this about the President who set records in deportations). Maybe. But I would rather think about the future and what we can do to prevent other tragedies. A wall by itself will only stimulate the Mexican ladder industry. But a comprehensive approach would allow law-abiding people to come here, would allow us to know where they are and what they’re up to and free up resources to keep people like Zarate out of the country.
Unfortunately, I see no chance this will happen. Our Congress is useless, our President is clueless and our media are chasing their own tails.