Advocates for illegal immigrants are unrepentant after yesterday’s shocking acquittal on all homicide charges of an illegal-alien confessed killer. The advocates are defending the sanctuary policies that had set in motion the 2015 killing in San Francisco; they have also doubled down on their opposition to any deportation of illegal aliens, criminal or otherwise. If ever there were a clarifying moment regarding what is at stake in the battle for the immigration rule of law, this is it.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was a poster boy not just for the folly of sanctuary policies but also for the mass low-skilled Hispanic immigration that has transformed California. A barely literate drug dealer from Mexico with a second-grade education, no English, and a penchant for criminal aliases, Garcia Zarate had been deported five times by federal immigration authorities following convictions for various crimes.
Despite his record, Garcia Zarate was the sort of immigrant that the San Francisco authorities apparently believed that this country needs. Having completed a federal sentence in March 2015 for his sixth felonious reentry into the country, Garcia Zarate had been sent to the San Francisco County Jail to serve time for a marijuana charge from which he had absconded two decades ago. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requested that when the San Francisco sheriff released Garcia Zarate after his drug sentence, the sheriff would notify ICE so that the federal agents could pick him up for his sixth deportation. The sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, ignored the marijuana charge and, most crucially, the ICE detainer request as well, instead freeing Garcia Zarate back into San Francisco’s streets before ICE could pick him up. This release followed the city’s sanctuary policy, which forbade local law enforcement authorities from cooperating with their federal counterparts in ICE: local authorities may not notify ICE of a criminal illegal alien’s release date or hold that criminal alien for ICE to pick-up.
Four months after Mirkarimi sent Garcia Zarate back into San Francisco’s illegal alien subculture, the felon picked up a gun on the Embarcadero and fatally shot Kate Steinle, 32, in the heart. He then tossed the gun into the San Francisco Bay and ran off. The drug dealer changed his story several times during police interrogation, first saying that he had been aiming at a sea lion, then claiming that he didn’t even know that he was handling a gun. The gun had been stolen from the parked car of a federal law enforcement agent four days earlier; Garcia Zarate’s story at trial was that he had picked up a rag with the gun hidden within it and that the gun had accidentally discharged. To no avail, the prosecutor contested Garcia Zarate’s claim that the pistol used in the crime, a Sig Sauer P239, could be fired without the trigger being deliberately pulled.
Donald Trump turned the Steinle case into a powerful rallying cry for immigration enforcement during his presidential run. The illegal-alien lobby, by contrast, denied that San Francisco’s sanctuary policy had anything to do with the killing. California even strengthened its status as an immigration scofflaw after the Steinle homicide. This October, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 54, the California Values Act, which turns the entire state into an immigration-enforcement-free haven for all but the most heinous illegal-alien criminals. (Brown has been assiduously silent on the Garcia Zarate acquittal.) San Francisco imperceptibly tweaked its local sanctuary policy following the killing; today, it would again release Garcia Zarate if asked under the same conditions to hold him for ICE custody.
According to Garcia Zarate’s attorneys and other illegal-alien advocates, the only blame in this case belongs to Donald Trump and anyone who wants to enforce the immigration laws. “From day one, this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division and to foment a program of mass deportation,” public defender Francisco Ugarte said. Ugarte manages the immigration unit at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, where he advises criminal illegal aliens on how to avoid deportation for their crimes. “Nothing about Mr. Garcia Zarate’s ethnicity, nothing about his immigration status, nothing about the fact that he is born in Mexico had any relevance as to what happened on July 1, 2015,” Ugarte said. Actually, the case is almost exclusively about immigration policy; had this country had the ability to protect its borders and deport illegal alien criminals, Garcia Zarate would not have been sunning himself on the Embarcadero on July 1, 2015, but would have been back in Mexico.
But just because Garcia Zarate was acquitted on all homicide and assault charges (the jury, which contained three immigrants, found him guilty only of illegal gun possession) doesn’t mean that all is well for illegal alien criminals in the Golden Sanctuary State. The people we should really be concerned for now, according to former San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, are illegal aliens themselves. “I’m afraid the immigrant community is going to be made to pay for something that the jury decided appears to be a very tragic accident,” said Campos, now chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party. Trump and pro-enforcement forces would react to the verdict by “ramping up their rhetoric.”True to form, a sitting San Francisco supervisor turned the case into a gun control matter. “I always thought this is not an immigration issue, as Trump made it out to be— this is a gun management issue,” said Sandra Lee Fewer. “A car is not a safe and secure place to keep a gun, knowing the amount of car break-ins we have in San Francisco.” Now why might San Francisco have so many car break-ins? Because of California’s Proposition 47, which forbids prison sentences for most thefts, and which has led to a sharp increase in property crimes. But Supervisor Fewer treats car thefts as a fact of nature—like illegal immigration—that society has no power to quell.
California’s once-unrivalled status as the country’s most educated state has long since disintegrated under the waves of low-skilled, low-social-capital Mexican and Central American immigrants. Now, California's K-12 system rivals Mississippi and Alabama as an education backwater. The state’s school-age population, now majority Hispanic, lacks competitive linguistic and math skills. (Of course, defense counsel conducted part of their post-verdict press conference in Spanish, oblivious to the symbolism.) California is becoming another Brazil, divided between fabulously wealthy elites hunkered down in their own coastal sanctuaries, and a poor, Third World population. Before the rest of the country ends up in the same situation, the immigration policies that gave rise to the Steinle homicide must change. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been conducting a largely unheralded effort to end sanctuary jurisdictions, but the illegal-alien lawyer’s lobby has fought him at every turn.
Sessions’s efforts would be immensely aided if Congress finally passed the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act sponsored by Virginia congressman Bob Goodlatte. That bill would clarify ICE’s authority to enforce federal detainer requests and would confirm the attorney general’s authority to withhold federal funding from scofflaw jurisdictions. Most importantly, it would allow both the federal government and victims of sanctuary policies to sue sanctuary governments. The Steinle family had sued San Francisco and former sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in 2016 for their failure to notify ICE of Garcia Zarate’s release, but a federal judge threw out the case earlier this year. The Goodlatte bill would have allowed their suit to proceed. The passage of “Kate’s Law,” which lengthens the federal sentences for felonious reentry following deportation, is less urgent.
While building a border wall is an important part of a sound immigration policy, preserving the rule of law inside the country is even more important. The advocates’ agenda is clear: they want to stop all deportations and in so doing eviscerate our sovereignty once and for all. Their ultimate aim is to transform the country culturally and demographically. Sanctuary policies are one of their most powerful weapons in that crusade.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops.