A top official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today poured cold water on a proposal by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly aimed at punishing deported immigrants who attempt to reenter the country. “Kate’s Law” — named after 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, who was killed this month in San Francisco allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant — would institute a mandatory five-year prison term for deported immigrants who seek to reenter the country. Steinle’s alleged killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been deported five times.
“We’re stretched on our resources already and we’re focused on convicted criminals,” said Sarah Saldaña, ICE assistant secretary, at a hearing today of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “To expand it to just illegal entries or reentries would be a very big problem for us.” Saldaña said that U.S. attorneys across the country have chosen not to prosecute illegal reentries by people without criminal records. “It’s just too low level an offense,” she said.
Saldaña’s comments came in an exchange with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who teed up the issue: “So the suggestion that we make a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for people who have been deported and come back across the border with, let’s say with … no criminal history and no other history from the government’s point of view — that seems to me to be an invitation for a lot of prosecutions.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, reported that last week he introduced “Kate’s Law” in the Senate, “a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for anyone apprehended with an illegal reentry. Does ICE support Kate’s Law?” Saldaña replied that she’s “certainly willing to look at any proposal.” A Democratic judiciary committee aide tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the text of Cruz’s bill hasn’t been shared just yet, nor has a proposal from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa).
Cruz is among six Republican presidential candidates that O’Reilly last week cited as supporters of “Kate’s Law”; the others are Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), former Texas governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Donald Trump. O’Reilly has said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has “indicated” he’ll support the legislation, though it’s unclear where the host secured that assurance. A petition page at BillOReilly.com has been gathering support for the idea, and the famous Fox News host has been transparent with his audience, declaring that for this issue, he’s crossing over from analysis into advocacy.
Under current law, the penalty for reentry after deportation is a fine and a prison sentence not exceeding two years, or both. That’s the offense that, according to Saldaña, is not getting a great deal of attention from federal prosecutors. Penalties increase for reentry after deportation for those who have previous convictions — and it’s those cases that are drawing the focus of the feds. In advocating for his expansionist idea, O’Reilly may want to tell viewers how he proposes to pay for all these border-crossing prosecutions.