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June 28, 2017

Trump Administration says it "strongly supports" latest Kate’s Law to increase penalties on illegal reentry

The Trump Administration yesterday released this (unusual?) "statement of administration policy" concerning a bill in the House of Representatives known as Kate's Law. Here is its full text:

The Administration strongly supports H.R. 3004, Kate’s Law. This bill commemorates Kate Steinle, the 32-year-old woman who was shot and killed two years ago in San Francisco as she walked along a pier with her father. The alleged shooter, Francisco Sanchez, was an illegal immigrant who had already been deported five times and had seven felony convictions.

H.R. 3004 would increase the penalties that may be imposed on criminal aliens convicted of illegal reentry, deterring reentry and keeping criminal aliens off our streets. 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.

If H.R. 3004 were presented to the President in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law. 

Notably, as this White House statement indicates and as detailed in this recent Cato commentary by David Bier titled "Kate’s Law: A Waste of Federal Resources," the latest version of Kate's Law (H.R. 3004, available here) does not include the five-year mandatory minimum prison term that has appeared in some prior versions of "Kate's Law."  Rather, the version that the Trump Administration now "strongly supports" serves to raise the maximum prison term for various illegal reentry offenders with particular criminal histories.  Consequently, I do not think this version of Kate's Law would really have too much of an impact on too many illegal reentry cases.  In turn, advocates of federal sentencing reform who are justifiably concerned about great more use and reliance on federal mandatory minimum sentencing provisions should be pleased to see a version of Kate's Law apparently gaining steam that does not include any new mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.

One last cheeky comment combined with a final observation about this statement from the Trump Administration.  I was tempted to title this post, "Unlike Obama, Prez Trump formally expresses strong support for federal sentencing reform."  I decided not to use such a post title because, though I think it would be in many ways accurate, the phrasing would have a "fake news" quality to it.  Modern conversations about and references to "federal sentencing reform" are generally about lowering possible prison terms, not increasing them.  Moreover, the Obama Administration in various ways at various times over the course of the two terms did express support for federal sentencing reform.

That all said, I was tempted to title this post, "Unlike Obama, Prez Trump formally expresses strong support for federal sentencing reform," because this statement on Kate's Law showcases the kind of express and aggressive support that a White House can (and I think should) put behind criminal justice reform legislation it supports.  Though I am certain Prez Obama and his team worked behind the scenes in various ways and gave various speeches to support various sentencing reform efforts, I do not recall the Obama team ever issuing any formal "statement of administration policy" like this one from the Trump team in support of any particular sentencing reform proposal in Congress.  Of particular note, especially if we consider parallel points in a first Term, Prez Obama to my knowledge never formally expressed support from the White House as President in 2009 for bills in Congress that sought to completely equalize crack and powder cocaine sentencing (though the Holder DOJ did testify in support of complete equalization in front of the then Democratically controlled Congress).

UPDATE: I just now have seen that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also adding his voice in support of Kate's Law via this official statement which includes these passages:

Countless families and communities have suffered as a result of these ‘sanctuary’ policies, which undermine federal law by safeguarding criminal illegal aliens from federal law enforcement. One victim of these policies was Kate Steinle, who was killed by an illegal alien who had been deported five times and yet still walked the streets freely. Her death was preventable, and she would still be alive today if only the City of San Francisco had put the public’s safety first. How many more Americans must die before we put an end to this madness?

Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act would penalize criminal illegal aliens who break our laws and the jurisdictions that attempt to shield them from justice. These bills can restore sanity and common-sense to our system by ending abusive attempts to undermine federal law, and they can prevent future tragedies by empowering law enforcement.

June 28, 2017 at 01:09 PM | Permalink


Laws named after crime victims tend to raise red flags though that practice is not only done by one side. The same applies to those victims of some civil rights violation.

The text to me is a tad forced in trying somehow to make sure to blame Obama for not doing enough, while assuring us the writer is being fair.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 28, 2017 1:44:43 PM

Note: repeatedly, after pressing "post," the comment does not show up.

By now, after repeatedly resulting in multiple comments, I assume it is, leave the page & come back to check. Each time, the comment is posted after all.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 28, 2017 1:46:12 PM


There have been multiple technical issues with Doug's blog over the years all of which can be traced back to the buggy and insecure typepad.com interface. I have encouraged him over the years to move to a more stable and secure platform but such pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

BTW, I also tend to be dubious of any law named after a person regardless of its subject. Such people almost always tend to be outliers and making policy based upon outliers is a sure path to bad policy.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 28, 2017 1:51:55 PM

Sorry about the comment issues... I do not know how to fix glitchy technology and I am grateful I can get anything to work.

Posted by: Doug B | Jun 28, 2017 2:24:19 PM

If the Obama administration had issued a formal statement, that would have changed your attitude? I thought you would have written it off - as this deserves to be written off - as a nice gesture if not backed by some concrete action and success.

This isn't about CJ reform, and shouldn't be called such. Raising maximum sentences but invoking no new mandatory minimums is a 'reform' that's better what Obama did and tried to do? Really? Can we set the bar for reform any lower?

This is part of the ongoing efforts of Trump/Sessions to criminalize immigration in support of travel bans, police powers, unquestioning deference to presidential pronouncements on national security. But let's take a gratuitous swip at Obama while Trump tries to gain even more executive power, in the face so many pixels spilled here talking about overcriminalization and oo much govt power.

Posted by: Paul | Jun 28, 2017 4:51:08 PM

Paul: If the Obama administration had put its weight behind any notable sentencing reform during his first year in office --- when the Senate was around 60/40 and the House was around 255/180 in control of the Dems --- then some notable sentencing reform would likely have gotten done well beyond the important (but still half-a-loaf) Fair Sentencing Act. I agree that a formal statement is just a gesture, but even such a gesture toward sentencing reform from Prez Obama would and could have moved priorities during his first two years in office.

You are right, of course, that these statements from are Trump/Sessions are really mostly about furthering an anti-illegal immigration narrative that plays to core policy and political commitments of Prez Trump. But that itself goes to the point I am trying to makes --- namely to remind folks that, especially during Obama's first term, criminal justice/sentencing reform was never part of his core policy and political commitments. And even when these issues became of greater importance to Obama, he still failed to "lean in" nearly as effectively as I think he should have --- e.g., he opposed mens rea reform that the GOP sought which, if added to various bills, could have pushed landmark legislation over the finish line.

That all said, Paul, you are right that the end of this post represents a gratuitous swipe at Obama. But I still cannot get over my persistent disappointment and frustration with how little of any transformative significance her achieved, or even sought to achieve, in this policy space.

Posted by: Doug B | Jun 28, 2017 5:13:54 PM

The problem with the law is that many illegal immigrants would prefer a prison sentence than to go back to the living conditions of where they came from. There is a huge social structure in prison at least for the Hispanic population. Giving longer terms is not really the answer.

Posted by: Anne | Jun 28, 2017 6:57:27 PM


Obama has to shoulder some of the blame. Let me use a football analogy. Obama got the ball on the his own thirty yard line, went four and out, and muffed the punt. Now Obama defenders celebrate the fact that his opponents at least didn't score a turnover. Well, that is true. Obama held onto the ball and didn't make a big blunder. I'll give you that and I'll give Obama that. At the same time, the best defense is a good offense and Obama sure in the hell did not put up a good offense.

"This is part of the ongoing efforts of Trump/Sessions to criminalize immigration in support of travel bans, police powers, unquestioning deference to presidential pronouncements on national security."

Yeah and if Obama had pinned the Republicans in their own end zone they would have been forced to cover a lot more ground. Instead he made it easy for them.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 28, 2017 7:45:14 PM

I have no interest in defending Obama, and I am not an apologist for him. I just want consistent standards and criticisms applied to Trump. If we're going to criticize Obama for not making more progress, we should be equally harsh in our criticism of Trump for moving the ball backwards.

Posted by: Paul | Jun 29, 2017 9:45:32 AM

"If the Obama administration had put its weight behind any notable sentencing reform during his first year in office --- when the Senate was around 60/40 and the House was around 255/180 in control of the Dems"

The House and Senate in his first year in office had many things to handle, including addressing what was seen as an emergency economic situation, health care, foreign policy issues etc. The "around" is coy (since even you admit to being "gratutious," I have a lower tolerance here) since that matters.

A filibuster is a thing. It requires sixty votes. And, Obama isn't a magician. He wasn't going to get all of this accomplished if the members did not want it. Perhaps, though the split of the party on this issue makes it very hard to formulate reform (helps explain why health law is so very hard, Democrats not passing it even when Democrats were in the White House and they had majorities and a much more willing moderate Republican wing to help) you can gratutious make potshots at Pelosi and Reid too.

I'm sorry if Doug B. and others didn't realize that Obama was not some sort of radical transform figure, even if he had nice sounding rhetoric, though if you want to take his words at face value, a big part of it was that he would work with both sides. Republicans didn't want to vote for him. If no one wants to defend Obama, I will, since I'm tired of this unfair critique. Fair critiques are fine.

It's okay, especially since it's your policy space, to be disappointed. Though a realistic person would be more fair at looking at the big picture, and realize a President has so many things on their plate & in multiple cases, significant change did occur. So much that all of it will be very hard to remove even in Trump America. And, even the critique of Obama repeatedly belittles what he did do with the help of others in this space as well as giving him too much power. This is a constant road to disappointment that leads to such gratuitous shots.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 29, 2017 10:19:41 AM

Paul and Joe, what you are missing here is that Obama campaigned and pledged to make a lot more progress and to be a transformative figure on criminal justice issues (while Trump campaigned and pledged to be a law and order guy). Thus my criticisms are consistent given the background of what they promised to do an what they were capable/interested in spending political capital on. Trump pledged to be "tough on crime" and he picked an AG and is making statements to vindicate that pledge despite having a lot of other stuff on his plate. Obama pledged to be "smart on crime" and his selected AG and other actions did not really vindicate this pledge until well into his second term.

And I get tired of the "so much to handle" defense for Obama's lack of engagement/interest in CJ reform during his first term. Trump also has plenty to handle, and still his team is pressing for the kind of CJ reform they want and campaigned around. In contrast, the Obama team in 2009 --- and other Dems like Pelosi and Reid --- decided other issues were more important and that following up promises on the CJ reform front could and should be left until much later. That political choice was theirs to make, but I will continue to assail them for it because I think this choice has proven over time to be bad politics as well as bad policy.

I assail what little Obama did mostly because I fail to see how "significant change did occur" that will be hard for Trump to undo. In 2008, the federal prison population was 201,668, in 2016 it was 192,170, and DOJ is predicting a 3% increase next year to get us back over 200,000. The Holder memos are already gone on application of MMs, and the Cole Memos may soon be gone on deference to state marijuana reform. I agree that state level changes of all sorts will not be easily undone by the Trump DOJ, but I do not think Obama merits any credit on this front (that credit should perhaps go to Texas for starting cost-saving anti-prison reforms back in 2006).

I think it fair to suggest I beat up on Obama too much because I expected too much from him in this space and I beat up on Trump too little because I expect so little from him in this space. But, as always, I am just trying to call it like I see it without specific concern for parties and teams and with particular concern for policies and practices.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 29, 2017 2:37:58 PM

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