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What Is Kate's Law?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Nov 28, 2023

Since 2015, the "Kate's Law" bill has continued to spark controversy as congressional leaders have introduced and reintroduced it. If enacted, this law would enforce much stricter penalties on individuals convicted of certain crimes who re-enter the United States after having been deported.

Kate's Law, also known as the Establishing Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act of 2015, was named after Kate Steinle, a young woman who was murdered in San Francisco by a man who was previously deported from the United States but had returned multiple times.

What Is Kate's Law?

While there has been much written and debate about Kate's Law, few people understand the contents of the law. This legislation is designed to deter deported people from returning to the United States.

After her murder, Senator Ted Cruz introduced Kate's Law. In July 2015, the House passed another second measure called the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act,” which proposed cutting federal grants to states with “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with law enforcement tasked with enforcing immigration laws.

In July 2016, a Senate version of Kate's Law was passed, but a supermajority did not exist to defeat the filibuster. In June 2017, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) reintroduced two bills (H.R. 3004), and an anti-sanctuary city policy was passed and proceeded to be heard by the Senate.

The bill increases the maximum prison term for someone previously deported and reenter the United States after committing a particular type of crime. A maximum prison term is how long individuals can be charged with a crime.

While this bill has yet to be passed as of the time of this writing, it's essential to be aware of its implications, mainly if you are an immigrant accused of a crime or are in the country illegally.

The Origins and Legislative History of Kate's Law

The Establishing Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act of 2015, more commonly known as "Kate's Law," was introduced in the wake of a tragic event that sparked a national debate about immigration policies and their enforcement.

As noted, the law is named after Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco in July 2015. Her accused killer was an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times before the incident. This event ignited a public outcry, leading to the introduction of Kate's Law to strengthen immigration enforcement.

In response, Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas introduced the first iteration of Kate's Law in 2015. It was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate because they didn't have the requisite number of votes to overcome a filibuster.

It was reintroduced in 2017 and again in 2019, but both attempts failed to advance past the Senate. Senator Cruz and Representative Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma reintroduced the bill yet again in June of 2023.

What Are the Key Provisions of Kate's Law?

One of the primary provisions of Kate's Law is the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence for individuals who re-enter the U.S. illegally after having been deported for a serious crime. Some specific provisions of the bill include the following:

  • A mandatory minimum sentence of five years for those who re-enter the United States illegally after having been convicted of an aggravated felony. An aggravated felony includes many different types of illegal activity, including, but not limited to, murder, rape, drug trafficking, aggravated burglary, money laundering, and various violent crimes
  • A mandatory minimum sentence of five years for those with two prior convictions of illegal reentry into the United States. Note that this mandatory sentence applies regardless of whether the defendant committed other crimes while in the country.
  • A mandatory additional 10-year prison sentence for terrorists who re-enter the U.S. after having been deported. This sentence must be served consecutively after any other pre-existing sentences.

Kate's Law applies regardless of the circumstances or nature of someone's prior offenses or reasons for being in the United States.

What Is the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act?

The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act is a sister piece of legislation introduced along with Kate's Law that would curb and restrict federal grant money from going to so-called "sanctuary cities"—those cities with liberal immigration policies that do not cooperate with the enforcement of immigration laws.

San Francisco, the city where Kathryn Steinle was murdered, is considered a sanctuary city. The bill passed the House in 2017 but has not passed the Senate.

What is the Controversy and Debate Regarding Kate's Law?

Kate's Law has stirred considerable controversy since its inception, with arguments for and against it shaping the ongoing debate surrounding immigration policies in the U.S.

Proponents of the law argue that it serves as a necessary deterrent against illegal reentry into the United States, particularly by individuals with a history of serious criminal conduct.

Controversy Regarding Kate's Law

They contend that the law is designed to protect the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens. Supporters believe stricter penalties would discourage illegal reentry and help prevent similar tragedies.

On the other hand, critics argue that Kate's Law could usher in anti-immigration policies that indiscriminately penalize even those who come to the U.S. seeking refuge from persecution. They worry that the broad nature of the penalties may lead to the criminalization of nonviolent offenders and could dramatically increase the U.S. prison population.

Opponents also express concerns about the potential misuse of federal resources, arguing that the bill could lead to a significant increase in the population of nonviolent prisoners while not necessarily enhancing the protection of U.S. citizens.

Critics further argue that the legislation could undermine the efforts of cities to encourage cooperation between immigrants and local law enforcement, potentially impacting community safety.

Criminal immigration laws are often complex and require the assistance of experienced legal counsel. If you are charged with illegal reentry or an immigrant facing deportation, contact our federal criminal defense lawyers to review the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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