Exclusive – Kobach: The Lessons of the Kate Steinle Case

Kate Steinle and Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez
Facebook/Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP

On Thursday, a jury in California state court found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate (a.k.a. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez) not guilty of first and second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and assault.

The jury did find Zarate guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon. Zarate is the five-times-deported illegal alien (with seven prior felony convictions) who shot and killed Kate Steinle in 2015 when she was walking on San Francisco’s Pier 14 with her father. By his own admission, he had returned to San Francisco after his previous deportation because San Francisco is a sanctuary city – one that refuses to turn most illegal aliens over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The verdict was a shocking one, particularly regarding the crime of involuntary manslaughter. According to Zarate, he fired the gun accidentally, he didn’t aim at Steinle, and the bullet ricocheted before it hit her (a claim the ballistics evidence supported). The gun had been stolen from a federal agent’s car a few days earlier. But even if you assume that all of this is true, he would still be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Under the California penal code, involuntary manslaughter is killing someone without malice by “the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.” Zarate’s actions fall under this crime in two different ways: he shot the gun in “an unlawful manner” because it was unlawful for him to even be holding the gun as a felon; and putting one’s finger on the trigger of a loaded gun on a crowded pier is an act undertaken “without due caution and circumspection.”

The verdict is infuriating, but the episode contains important lessons – lessons that must be learned quickly to avoid the loss of future American lives.

First, sanctuary city policies lead directly to the death of American citizens. But for San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, Kate Steinle would be alive today. Zarate would have been transferred to ICE custody at ICE’s request, and would have been removed from the United States. He would not have been on Pier 14 with a loaded firearm that day. Moreover, even if he had made it back into the country, it was the sanctuary city policy that attracted him back to San Francisco specifically.

This is why the death of any person at the hands of an illegal alien protected by a sanctuary city is doubly tragic – the death was preventable and likely would not have occurred absent the sanctuary policy. This is true whether it is an accidental shooting or an accidental vehicular homicide committed by an illegal alien driving while intoxicated.

Second, the liberal/progressive leaders of these cities are not going to come to their senses unless they are forced to do so by the federal government. San Francisco’s policy has been in place for nearly thirty years. It enacted its “City and County of Refuge” Ordinance in 1989. That ordinance prohibited city officials from using city funds to assist the federal government in enforcing federal immigration laws. And it led to the death of others before Kate Steinle.

The most notorious case was the killing of the Bologna family members in 2008. In that case, the San Francisco sanctuary ordinance led to the release of Salvadoran illegal alien gang member Edwin Ramos, who had been arrested for a gang-related assault and an attempted robbery. Ramos then went on to gun down Michael, Matthew, and Andrew Bologna (a father and his two sons) in a brutal shooting in 2008. I represented the surviving family members in a lawsuit that attempted to hold the city responsible for their deaths.

San Francisco should have ended its sanctuary policy then and there. It was undeniable that the policy led to the death of the Bolognas. Instead, the city remained defiant. It was only a matter of time until someone else died. And it will only be a matter of time until another similar killing occurs in San Francisco.

Other cities are equally defiant. Earlier this year, Chicago sued the Justice Department to stop the Department from denying Byrne Justice Assistance Grants to sanctuary cities. The leaders of these cities are more interested in the political gains they might realize by catering to illegal aliens than in protecting the lives of innocent Americans.

The time has come for Congress to deny an even broader array of federal funds to sanctuary jurisdictions. The House of Representatives passed such a bill at the end of June 2017. But the Senate has yet to vote on it. There’s no good excuse for waiting. The denial of federal money changes the game. When these cities are denied the ability to feed at the federal trough, they suddenly come to their senses regarding sanctuary policies.

Third, the feds can address the problem in other ways too. It’s time to start aggressively prosecuting illegal re-entry into the US. Contrary to what you might hear from the open borders crowd, it’s already a crime to sneak into the United States. It’s a misdemeanor the first time, and it’s a felony if the alien does it again. And it’s an even bigger crime for a previously-deported felon like Zarate to re-enter the United States. In his case, the penalty is up to ten years in prison.

The Justice Department has indicated that they may prosecute Zarate for his illegal re-entry into the United States. They should certainly do so. But they should also increase the prosecution for this crime across the board. It is tragic how many times previously-deported felons return to the United States and injure or kill American citizens. Until the word gets out that the federal government will put such aliens in prison, the re-entries will continue.

The federal government also needs to build the wall. If the wall had been in place when Zarate had been deported the fifth time, he would not have been to return so easily, if at all. The Steinle case illustrates vividly why the wall is needed to protect American citizens. Until we can control who crosses the southern border, we will never be able to fully protect our citizens from criminals like Zarate.

Kris W. Kobach is the elected Secretary of State of Kansas. An expert in immigration law and policy, he coauthored the Arizona SB-1070 immigration law and represented in federal court the ten ICE agents who sued to stop Obama’s 2012 executive amnesty. In 2017 President Trump named him Vice Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. His website is kriskobach.com.


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