Criminal-justice reform is one of the few bipartisan issues gaining traction in Congress right now. Politicians from the left, the right, and the center now recognize the need to reduce the United States’ unprecedented prison population. But an immigration bill under debate in Congress shows that the impulses that created mass incarceration still run strong in American politics.
In July, a group of legislators introduced the Establishing Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act of 2015, popularly known as Kate’s Law. On Wednesday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission estimated that Kate’s Law would expand the federal prison population by over 57,000 prisoners, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonprofit organization that supporters sentencing reform.
Kate’s Law is named after Kate Steinle, who died on July 1 after being shot on Pier 14 in San Francisco. Police arrested Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national and convicted felon who was in the United States illegally, and charged him with Steinle’s murder. Lopez-Sanchez subsequently admitted to firing the gun, but claimed Steinle was not the target and that her death was accidental.
Steinle’s death set off a firestorm of protests among opponents of illegal immigration. Donald Trump transmuted some of the outrage over Steinle’s death, as well as his broader invectives against illegal immigration and “political correctness,” into frontrunner status in the Republican presidential-nominee race. On a July 6 segment that defended Trump’s comments, Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly urged his cable audience to lobby Congress on a mandatory-minimum provision he called Kate’s Law. The following night, he clarified his proposal even further.
As we suggested last night, Congress should pass legislation that would impose a mandatory-minimum five-year sentence on any illegal alien that is deported and then comes back.
“The word mandatory is crucial,” O’Reilly told his audience. “There are laws on the books now that are being ignored. Congress must write Kate’s Law so if officials do not enforce the mandatory sentence, they themselves can be prosecuted.” Steinle’s parents endorsed the measure in a July 13 interview with O’Reilly. The House bill currently has 45 cosponsors; Senator Ted Cruz drafted an identical version in the Senate on July 14.