Big issues that divide the country often remain unresolved for a long time because the public sentiment is so evenly divided. Neither political party is able to cobble together a majority to pass legislation to resolve it.
What often breaks the deadlock is a horrific crime connected to the issues under debate. Such was the case with the murder of a young, attractive, 32-year-old woman by an illegal immigrant on July 1, 2015.
The killer was Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who at the time of the shooting had been convicted of seven felonies and been deported five times.
Less than three months after being released from his latest prison term, Lopez-Sanchez stole a gun and used it to kill Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 in the Embarcadero District of San Francisco — a “sanctuary city.”
Kathryn, “Kate” Steinle was shot through the heart and died in her father’s arms. She was able to say to him, “Help me, Dad.” Those were her last words.
When the killer was released from his 4-year prison term, he was turned over to the San Francisco Police on an outstanding marijuana charge.
The charge was immediately dismissed by the San Francisco court system and, despite the pleas of the U.S. Immigration Service to hold Lopez-Sanchez until they could take him into custody for deportation, San Francisco authorities released him.
Not long after being released, Lopez-Sanchez ended up at Pier 14 where he killed Steinle.
The public outrage over this case was so overwhelming it drove the passage of “Kate’s Law” in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015. It was then was sent to the U.S. Senate.
Despite the heartbreaking testimony of Kate’s father, there was opposition to “Kate’s Law,” largely driven by leaders at the ACLU who called the law “short-sighted and ill-conceived.” The opponents of the law were successful and “Kate’s Law” failed in the Senate.
With the failure of “Kate’s Law,” the issues of illegal immigration and “sanctuary cities” that the proposed law addressed resumed their previous deadlocked status. They remain deadlocked to this day, despite President Donald Trump’s persistent and unwavering demand that Congress fix these issues.
The deadlocked status of these issues may be changing soon, however. The body of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, was found on Tuesday, August 21, in a field covered by corn stalks.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 24-year-old man, was arrested for first-degree murder in the girl’s death.
As with the Kate Steinle case, Rivera is an illegal immigrant and ICE is presently detaining him.
The Mollie Tibbitts story has been front-page news since she disappeared after going out for a jog at 7:30 p.m. on July 18 in Brooklyn, Iowa. She never returned home. Brooklyn is a small, quiet Iowa town where no one bothered to lock their doors, day or night. That all changed after Mollie disappeared.
There will be many details emerging in this case that will likely raise the visibility of the case and the level of anger within the American public. The case is exactly the sort that adds additional pressure and force to Trump’s push for legislation on illegal immigration.
The Mollie Tibbitts’ case has all the markings of another “Kate’s Law” movement, but the political environment is dramatically different now than it was during “Kate’s Law.” This is the Trump era and Trump is a force to be reckoned with. He doesn’t bend or retreat to get what he wants, and immigration reform is directly in his crosshairs.
Trump’s powerful personal force and messaging, combined with the compelling case of Mollie Tibbitts, plus the pressure of the upcoming midterm elections, may make immigration reform, this time, into a nearly unstoppable movement.
Terry Ray is a professor of law, Emeritus. He is now a full-time novelist for Sunbury Press.
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