By James MANNION / Agence France-Presse
President Donald Trump on Friday stepped up his demands for a wall to stem illegal immigration from Mexico after an undocumented migrant was acquitted of murdering a woman in California — in a dramatic conclusion to a polarizing case.
“His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump repeatedly cited the fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle in July 2015 to make an incendiary case against illegal immigration during his 2016 campaign for the US presidency.
The 32-year-old Steinle was struck in the back by a bullet as she strolled on a pier in San Francisco with her father and a friend. She died in the hospital.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a felon who had been deported five times from US soil, admitted to firing the shot but said it was an accident.
Evidence presented at trial showed the bullet had ricocheted off a concrete piling before hitting Steinle.
On Thursday, after a five-week trial and six days of deliberation, a jury found Garcia not guilty of murder or assault with a firearm.
He was convicted only of being a felon in possession of a firearm, an offense punishable by 16 months to three years in prison.
Immigration authorities said they would work to deport Garcia, and on Friday, they issued a warrant for his arrest, stating that his conviction was a violation of his parole conditions for a previous arrest for illegally entering the country.
“A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration,” Trump tweeted late Thursday.
The president did not let the topic drop Friday, tweeting: “The Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court.”
Speaking to CNN last year, Trump dubbed Garcia an “animal,” saying: “Mexico pushes back people across the border that are criminals, that are drug dealers.”
– Deportation planned –
The divisive case reignited debate over cooperation between federal immigration authorities and police in state and local jurisdictions where the priority is crime prevention, not deportation.
The case prompted many US lawmakers to argue in favor of imposing restrictions on access to federal funds for places such as San Francisco that are known as “sanctuary cities.”
Such cities protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by refusing to assist or cooperate with federal immigration officials.
After the verdict, Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who maintains an ultra-conservative agenda on immigration — skewered San Francisco’s sanctuary city status, saying its “decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle.”
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency also said the California city’s “policy of refusing to honor ICE detainers is a blatant threat to public safety and undermines the rule of law.”
“Following the conclusion of this case, ICE will work to take custody of Mr Garcia Zarate and ultimately remove him from the country,” the agency’s deputy director Tom Homan said in the statement.
– ‘Move on with our lives’ –
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle prior to the verdict’s release, Steinle’s family emphasized that they wanted simply to move out of the spotlight.
“We just want to get this over with and move on with our lives, and think about Kate on our terms. Nothing’s been on our terms. It’s been on everyone else’s terms,” said her father Jim Steinle.
“Even if this guy gets 100 years in prison, it doesn’t solve anything; it doesn’t help anything,” he said.
But after the verdict’s rendering, he told the paper his family was “saddened and shocked” after learning Garcia was convicted only on firearms possession charges.
“Justice was rendered, but it was not served,” he said.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Garcia was “extremely relieved.”
“He knew what was at stake — his life was at stake,” Adachi said of his office’s client.
“I think he feels tremendous sympathy for Kate Steinle and her family — we do as well — but unfortunately these types of horrible tragic accidents happen every day.” (AFP)