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Zeldin cites Greenport murder as reason to pass Kate’s Law

09/08/2017 5:55 AM |

Congressman Lee Zeldin issued a statement last week calling for stiffer penalties for illegal immigrants who return to the United States after deportation, citing the recent murder of Michelle Schiavoni of Greenport.

Suffolk County police charged Jaime DeLeon-Tino with Ms. Schiavoni’s killing in July and an ICE spokesperson confirmed he had been previously removed from the country in 2013. He is currently being held on $1 million cash bail or $2 million bond. He pleaded not guilty and is due back in court Sept. 14.

“Where did the system fail?” Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in his statement. “If convicted of the crime, Mr. DeLeon-Tino should serve the max time and then be deported immediately. To prevent the tragic and senseless murder of innocent Americans, the federal government should increase penalties for those who return after they are deported.”

Mr. Zeldin co-sponsored a bill that would impose a maximum of two years in prison for those who illegally re-enter the country after deportation. That sentence would increase to a mandatory five years for anyone with a prior aggravated felony conviction or two other prior convictions in the U.S. The bill, known as Kate’s Law, passed the House of Representatives in June and is awaiting action by the Senate. An earlier version of the bill passed the House in 2015 but stalled in the Senate.

“When the United States deports criminals, it is essential that they do not return to do us additional harm,” Mr. Zeldin said.

It’s unclear whether Kate’s Law, as written, would have changed the circumstances of Mr. DeLeon-Tino’s presence in the country following his initial deportation. A spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney said Mr. DeLeon-Tino did not have a prior record in New York.

Kate’s Law is named after Kathryn Steinle, who was allegedly shot and killed by Jose Ines Garcia Zarate (also known by the alias Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez), a Mexican national who had been deported from the U.S. five times and had seven felony convictions, according to media reports.

The killing quickly became a rallying point among Republican lawmakers to crack down on undocumented immigrants. The first version of the bill passed the House three weeks after Ms. Steinle’s death. Also tied into the bill was a plan to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities where local officials decline to cooperate with federal officials on immigration cases.

Democratic New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand both voted against the 2015 bill. No one from either senator’s office responded to requests for comment on the current legislation.

Critics have argued the bill would fail to stop illegal re-entry, could overwhelm federal prisons and burden taxpayers with an estimated $3.1 billion over the next 10 years, according to a response sent to Senate leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union that was signed by 22 other organizations.

“While well-intentioned, Kate’s Law is an ultimately shortsighted and ill-conceived response to the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco,” the response says.

Christopher Worth, an immigration attorney based in East Quogue who represents clients on the North Fork, said he agrees with the points made by the ACLU that the proposed legislation has unintended consequences.

“This idea that it’s going to keep violent people out of the country is false,” he said.

An immigrant seeking asylum, as an example, could face a mandatory five-year prison sentence, he said.

“It has unintended consequences,” he said. “The country’s history with mandatory minimums has shown us that they really don’t work. It’s a reactionary, short-sighted plan that doesn’t really achieve what it’s intended to do.”

The law has the backing of the White House and President Trump has used Ms. Steinle’s story in speeches promoting a crackdown on illegal immigration.

“The bill is consistent with the Administration’s broader efforts to strengthen enforcement of our immigration laws and improve the security of our Nation’s borders,” a statement from The White House in June said.

The trial of Mr. Garcia Zarate has yet to begin, but his lawyers intend to argue that he fired the gun accidentally after finding it wrapped in cloth on a bench, according to media reports. The gun was reportedly stolen from a federal agent’s car four days before the shooting. Prosecutors have argued the shooting was intentional. The bullet, however, had first ricocheted off the pier about 12 to 15 feet in front of Mr. Garcia Zarate and then traveled an estimated 90 feet before fatally striking Ms. Steinle in the back, according to testimony from a preliminary hearing that’s described in detail in a Slate Magazine August cover story.

While Ms. Steinle’s parents backed the law in 2015, they’ve since tried to distance their daughter’s name from the legislation. Her father, Jim Steinle, told the San Francisco Chronicle in July: “I don’t know who coined ‘Kate’s Law.’ It certainly wasn’t us.”

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File photo: Congressman Lee Zeldin. (Credit: John Griffin)

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