ThinkProgress

Republican congressman introduces bill to heavily penalize immigrant-friendly lawmakers

Flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site on Pier 14 Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in San Francisco. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ben Margot

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) introduced an immigration bill Monday that would impose huge fines and prison time for elected officials who knowingly prevent undocumented criminals from getting deported. The move follows a “not guilty” verdict in a trial that sparked national scrutiny over immigration.

The Stopping Lawless Actions of Politicians (SLAP) Act of 2017 would penalize state or local officials who “knowingly ignores a request from the Federal Government” to turn over suspected undocumented immigrants through fines up to $1 million and five years in federal prison.

“The American people are rightfully infuriated watching politicians put their open-borders ideology before the rule of law, and the safety of the people they represent,” Rokita said in a press statement on Monday. “Politicians don’t get to pick and choose what laws to comply with. Americans are dying because politicians sworn to uphold the law refuse to do so. It’s time the federal government gets serious about enforcing immigration laws and holding politicians accountable who conspire to break them.”

San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy became a flashpoint in the national fervor over immigration in 2015 when Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, also known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, shot and killed Kate Steinle while she was walking with her father on a pier. The city’s “sanctuary” policy meant that local law enforcement officials released Garcia Zarate, a five-time deportee, from custody when charges were dropped for a 20-year-old nonviolent drug offense. A federal detainer request was issued for his potential deportation proceedings, but local law enforcement officials released him. Two months later, Garcia Zarate allegedly found a stolen gun and pulled the trigger, with the bullet ricocheting off the ground before killing Steinle. The jury ultimately found him guilty of a firearm possession charge.

“We’re just shocked — saddened and shocked … that’s about it,” Jim Steinle, Kate’s father, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Justice was rendered, but it was not served.”

President Donald Trump, who regularly conjures up Steinle’s death as justification for building up the border wall and issuing severe punishments for the undocumented population, characterized the not-guilty verdict as a “total miscarriage of justice.” On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an amended arrest warrant to Garcia Zarate for violating the terms of his supervised release for the firearms possession. He will likely be deported given the existence of an original warrant issued by a Texas federal court.

Rokita’s bill aligns with other similar pieces of federal legislation that seek to punish cities that “shelter” or do not automatically cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Lawmakers, including the president, regularly cite legislation that imposes huge penalties on cities that welcome immigrants, like Kate’s Law, which includes a mandatory five-year prison sentence for immigrants who reenter the country illegally.

Immigrant advocates have long argued that cities that work with the federal immigration agency to detain immigrants find lower levels of trust with these communities. A 2013 University of Illinois at Chicago report found that Latinos living in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix were less willing to contact police when crimes had been committed because they were afraid of either entangling themselves or someone they know in deportation proceedings.