Steinle Verdict Reignites GOP Firestorm Over Sanctuary Cities, States

Killer of Kate Steinle acquitted of murder charges, convicted of gun charge

The family of Kate Steinle, who was killed by an undocumented immigrant, look on during a news conference in San Francisco / Getty Images
December 1, 2017

President Donald Trump and several other prominent Republicans lawmakers denounced the not-guilty verdict in the Kate Steinle murder trial, reigniting a firestorm over sanctuary city and state policies that prevent illegal immigrants accused of crimes from being deported.

Trump late Thursday called the not guilty verdict in the Steinle case "disgraceful," and said it demonstrates why American voters are so upset with the nation’s lax enforcement of its immigration laws.

"A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case!" Trump tweeted just hours after the jury rejected charges against Steinle's killer that ranged from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. "No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with illegal immigration."

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Friday the verdict demonstrates the need for legislation to cut off federal funding to cities, states, and other localities that flout federal laws requiring local law enforcement detain illegal immigrants accused or convicted of crimes until federal authorities can pick them up and potentially deport them.

"The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, basically tells our major sanctuary cities you’re not getting federal funding," Conway said on "Fox and Friends."

"And you know what you need to do as a threshold? Obey the law, already, and if you flout the law, you’re not getting money. This strikes many Americans as common sense."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is engaged in a legal battle over his threats to withhold federal grants for California and other localities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, said the Justice Department would continue to try to ensure that the safety of U.S. communities comes first before protecting the rights of illegal immigrants accused of crimes.

He advised the nation's sanctuary communities to reflect on the outcome of the Steinle case and "consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers."

A jury Thursday evening found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty in Steinle's killing, who died while posing for photos with her father on a San Francisco pier in 2015. Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when he fatally shot Steinle in the back.

The prosecution argued that Zarate intentionally aimed at gun at Steinle and fired at her at least three times before throwing the weapon in the San Francisco Bay and running away. Zarate's attorney argued that the shooting was a complete accident, that he found the loaded gun on the pier and that it went off in his hands after he found it wrapped in towel.

The jury, which included three immigrants, found Zarate guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, a count that carries a potential sentence of 16 months to three years in jail.

Sessions said Steinle's murder is the direct result of California's continued policies of refusing to cooperate with federal authorities trying to deport illegal immigrant criminals.

"When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them into authorities, they put the public’s safety at risk," he said. "San Francisco's decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle" by a man Sessions said would not have been on the streets of San Francisco if the city had simply honored a request from the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency to detain him and allow federal authorities to pick him up and eventually deport him.

Other Republicans also reacted angrily to the Steinle verdict.

"I am disappointed and angry at the not guilty verdict for Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an illegal alien who had several felony convictions and was deport from the U.S. five times," Sen. Ted Cruz, (R., Texas), tweeted late Thursday. "Just must be served for Kate Steinle."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), reacting to the news of the verdict, renewed his call for the Senate to "immediately pass Kate’s Law to improve community safety and prevent future tragedies."

"The death of Kate Steinle was a heartbreaking and preventable tragedy. She died in her father's arms at the hand of someone who violated our nation’s laws and who never should have been in our country," he said in a statement Friday. "The sad reality is that had local authorities cooperated with federal law enforcement, this could have been avoided. We must honor Kate's legacy by taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again."

The House of Representatives last year passed a bill known as "Kate's Law," which would increase penalties for convicted and deported criminals who return to the U.S. illegally. The bill has not advanced in the Senate.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) also said the verdict shows why the nation should secure its borders and pass federal legislation to outlaw sanctuary city policies.

"Jose Zarate would never have been in this country in the first place after being deported 5 times already," Scalise tweeted Thursday night. "We must secure our borders, put an end to so-called 'sanctuary cities,' and prevent he kind of injustice suffered by Kate Steinle and her family."

The California legislature passed a law in early October granting the entire state "sanctuary status," the most far-reaching law of its kind in the country, placing sharp limits on how local law enforcement agencies can communicate with federal immigration authorities.

The sanctuary state law is California's latest salvo in its war with Trump over immigration policy. California's sheriffs have called on Congress to intervene and pass federal law overturning the sanctuary state status. They argue that the law ties their hands and will only increase the chances of another high-profile tragedy akin to Steinle's murder.