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Father Of Slain San Francisco Woman Testifies Before Congress


After Donald Trump criticized Mexican immigrants, he tried to focus the country's attention on the story of Kate Steinle. Police say the woman was killed in San Francisco by a man who illegally re-entered the United States after multiple deportations. Well, her father testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Jim Steinle sat somberly before the panel, remembering the young woman who was death has breathed new life into a long-running political fight.


JIM STEINLE: All children are special in their own way, and Kate was special in the way she connected with people. We called it the Kate effect. Kate was beautiful, kind, happy.

CHANG: And she loved being with her family.


STEINLE: In fact, the day she was killed, we were walking arm in arm on Pier 14 in San Francisco, enjoying a wonderful day together. Suddenly, a shot rang out, Kate fell and looked at me and said, help me, Dad.

Those are the last words I will ever hear from my daughter.

CHANG: The man who allegedly shot Kate Steinle had been deported five times and had seven prior felony convictions. San Francisco authorities had released him even though federal immigration officials wanted him to remain in custody. The crime has inspired Republicans to push bills to penalize cities that don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, so-called sanctuary cities. And taking center stage in their efforts will be people who've suffered horrific tragedies, like Laura Wilkerson of Pearland, Texas. Her son, Joshua, was beaten and set on fire by a classmate who was in the U.S. illegally.


LAURA WILKERSON: He was kicked so hard in the stomach that it set his spleen into his spine and sliced it in two, so it was painful. The medical examiner said it was torture.

CHANG: Wilkerson told senators getting tougher on immigration means saving lives.


WILKERSON: Sanctuary city policies scream to the criminal element of all - of illegals in this country. There is a criminal element. It screams to them, come to our town, USA. We'll protect you.

CHANG: But what exactly can be done about sanctuary cities sharply divides Congress. Republicans in both chambers are pushing bills that would block federal funding to cities that fail to cooperate with immigration officers. But Democrats, like Dianne Feinstein of California, are concerned with the more immediate problem of criminals who keep illegally re-entering the U.S.


DIANNE FEINSTEIN: How should that be prevented? My belief is in developing those relationships, in communication.

CHANG: Sarah Saldana, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, assured Feinstein that the White House has launched a program that could improve cooperation between federal and local governments. It requires immigration officials to ask local law enforcement agencies to notify them when convicts here illegally are released. Republican David Vitter of Louisiana scoffed at the idea.


DAVID VITTER: And after you say pretty please three times and they don't comply, is there going to be any negative consequence?

SARAH SALDANA: I'm looking at that, sir, and working with the secretary to see what we can do with respect to that.

VITTER: So you have not determined yet that there will be any negative consequence?

SALDANA: The program has been in effect for about three weeks, sir.

CHANG: The White House has maintained it could run into constitutional concerns if it tried to force local governments to cooperate, but Republicans say that hesitation will only cost more lives. Here is Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas.


TED CRUZ: I've introduced Kate's Law in the Senate, a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for anyone apprehended with an illegal re-entry. Does ICE support Kate's Law?

SALDANA: I sure would like to look at that. I haven't had a chance to. I'm not sure when it was introduced, if it has been.

CRUZ: It was introduced last week.

CHANG: Before the Senate acts, the House will move first. It plans to vote this week on its bill, yanking federal money from sanctuary cities. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.