Columns

Indiana Mayor on Kate’s Law: ‘You Can't Base Policy’ on ‘One Tragic Instance’

WASHINGTON – Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind., told PJM that two or more years in prison for re-entering the U.S. illegally after being deported is an unnecessary “draconian” measure for the federal government to implement against undocumented immigrants.

The House of Representatives recently passed two sanctuary city bills that are pending in the Senate. The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” (H.R. 3003) would crack down on localities that do not fully cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by reducing their federal funding and “Kate’s Law” (H.R. 3004) would penalize migrants who attempt to re-enter the U.S. illegally after being deported.

“Kate’s Law” is named after Kate Steinle, who was shot to death in 2015 on Pier 14 in San Francisco. Arrested and charged in her death was Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported and returned to the country multiple times. Prior to the shooting, the San Francisco Police Department had released Lopez-Sanchez despite an ICE request to keep the man in custody for re-entering the U.S. illegally.

Under Kate’s Law, an illegal immigrant who re-enters the U.S. after being deported would face up to two years behind bars. If that person has been deported three or more times, the re-entry penalty goes up to 10 years. With three misdemeanors or a felony on his or her record, the re-entry penalty would be 10 years in prison. That penalty rises with the degree of felony conviction and number of felonies, with murderers, rapists or kidnappers or those convicted of three or more felonies of any kind facing a re-entry penalty of 25 years behind bars.

Freeman-Wilson said public policy should not be designed based on “one tragic instance.”

“As tragic as that is, that’s one instance. I am not aware that we have ever developed public policy on one tragic instance, and what we do in our cities is we make ICE aware,” she said during an interview after a forum about “The Future of America’s Cities and Towns” held on Capitol Hill.

“Now, you can just as well say that that was a failure of federal policy from ICE’s standpoint for their failure to go and get that person once they were notified as it was for San Francisco releasing that person, but it could have just as easily happened for someone who was an original resident, a naturalized citizen. It happens and it’s tragic, but you can’t base policy on that,” she added.

Freeman-Wilson was asked if she supports the bill that would penalize someone who was deported and arrested again inside the U.S. with up to 25 years in prison.

“Well, that’s draconian. And, you know, this whole notion that we’re increasing penalties, that we’re going to just really incarcerate folks for something historically that they’ve not been incarcerated for lengthy amounts of time for is just backwards,” she said.

“I mean, you can’t arrest your way out of this problem. You really do have to create an immigration policy that addresses what we really need, which is a way to citizenship that is suitable for all,” she added. “And for those who need to be deported, you deport them, but it’s because you have a reasonable and rational immigration policy.”

Freeman-Wilson described Gary as a “welcoming city” that creates “opportunities for all people” that come to the city.

“We don’t harbor folks who are in violation of the criminal law and certainly we are not saying that we will not cooperate with the federal government. What we’re saying is that we cannot afford for you to co-opt our local police forces and our local resources to essentially support a civil mandate, because that’s really what a detainer order is,” she said. “It’s a civil matter mandate. We believe that ICE and all the folks who work with the federal government with Homeland Security have a right to do their jobs. We’re not going to hamper that, we’re not going to oppose it, but we’re also not going to utilize local resources to facilitate that.”

She labeled the Trump administration’s sanctuary city crackdown an unfunded mandate.

“So to the extent that you have a federal law that will say that you have to do this: I think that that is unnecessarily burdensome; it’s another unfunded mandate,” she said.

Freeman-Wilson described how the police in Gary handle arrests of individuals who lack a lawful immigration status and commit crimes in the city.

“Well, what happens in the lion’s share and the majority of cities is when that person is arrested and their fingerprints are processed, it goes up to the federal government, they get their information immediately. So, they then make the decision to do what they need to do if that person is determined to be in this country illegally,” she said.

“So, if they do their jobs, then you don’t have to worry about any punitive legislation, any mandates against funding, any of that. They just need to do their jobs. And all we’re saying is we have our hands full, we are not asking you to go and investigate burglaries or deal with traffic tickets. We don’t want to do your job; we want you to do it,” she added.

Freeman-Wilson said Gary and the “lion’s share of cities” in the U.S. would not be impacted if Congress passed the bill to withdraw federal funds from localities that do not cooperate with ICE.

“The question is can we sign the assurance that we are not in fact harboring folks, that we are not allowing folks who are not in the country legally to remain – and we can sign off on that assurance, and most cities can. Now, there are some cities that are sanctuary cities and they are proudly sanctuary cities – that would impact them,” she said.

“Why would you penalize the majority of residents over this small number of folks that you have a means – I mean, it’s not like they are harboring criminals. If a person is charged criminally and they are an illegal immigrant then they’re held accountable under the criminal penal system, but why do you allow this really micro set of folks to dictate what your federal policy is? That’s very dangerous,” she added.

PJM asked Freeman-Wilson if local jails should release an undocumented immigrant after they serve their sentence or wait for ICE to act.

“But ICE is told, they’re told when they’re arrested, they’re told when they are sentenced. Now what they have the responsibility to do is to follow the case; I mean everybody knows when their out date is,” she said. “They have to follow up on that information, they want the local jurisdictions to do their jobs for them, and we are not in a position to do that.”

Freeman-Wilson told PJM the top issues on her agenda in meetings with lawmakers were the Community Development Block Grant program and infrastructure. She was “extremely surprised” that infrastructure was not one of the first issues President Trump began to tackle when he entered office “because that was the mantra as he went throughout this country talking about the need to invest in infrastructure, our crumbling infrastructure, how it’s failing, how we’re losing in competition to other countries and the fact that that has essentially taken a back burner is a huge surprise.”

“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to move forward with it, because I think you’ll find that that would be a unifying issue both in cities and states and in other places throughout the country,” she said.

The Gary mayor said her office has been “in communication” with Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana, and his team on infrastructure.

“We worked very closely with them when they were in Indiana and we expect that working relationship to continue,” Freeman-Wilson said.