U.S. Plans to Deport Mexican Man Acquitted in Kathryn Steinle Case


The United States plans to deport the Mexican man who was acquitted of killing Kathryn Steinle, a woman whose 2015 death while strolling along a San Francisco pier fueled a fierce national debate over immigration, officials said Thursday. Donald J. Trump, then a presidential candidate, highlighted the case in his attacks on migration and sanctuary cities.

Jose Inez Garcia Zarate was acquitted by a jury in November 2017 on murder and manslaughter charges but was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He said he had fired the gun by accident, and evidence presented at the trial indicated that the bullet had ricocheted.

He was sentenced to time served in 2022, but he has remained in prison for federal probation violations since then. He was transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Feb. 16, officials at the agency said.

ICE plans to deport Mr. Garcia Zarate to central or southern Mexico within days or a week, according to an official with the Department of Homeland Security. The person, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ms. Steinle’s death became a touchstone in a fierce debate over how law enforcement should approach immigrants without legal status. Mr. Garcia Zarate, who is in his late 40s or early 50s, had been convicted of multiple offenses and deported to Mexico at least five times from 1993 to 2011, according to court documents.

The national debate continues to this day, as Mr. Trump, again running for president, tries to galvanize support for his hard-line immigration agenda. President Biden, who came into office promising a more humane immigration system after the Trump years, has taken an increasingly forceful line on immigration as well.

At the time of Ms. Steinle’s killing, ICE officials said the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department had failed to honor their request to hold Mr. Garcia Zarate. Instead, the sheriff’s department released him from custody.

Ms. Steinle’s family tried and failed to sue the city of San Francisco for freeing Mr. Garcia Zarate without telling federal immigration authorities just months before the shooting.

“This is an absolutely disgraceful situation and I am the only one that can fix it. Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won’t happen if I become president,” Mr. Trump said at the time. Hillary Rodham Clinton, another presidential candidate, also said that San Francisco had made a mistake in releasing Mr. Garcia Zarate.

The San Francisco public defender’s office, which represented Mr. Garcia Zarate in his trial, said the case had been miscast in the public.

“From Day 1, this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division, to foment a program of mass deportation … and I believe today is a vindication for the rights of immigrants,” a public defender told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2017.

The shooting brought a renewed focus on the issue of sanctuary cities like San Francisco, which limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

The Trump administration tried to crack down on sanctuary cities, including by attempting to withhold federal funding from them. Many cities worried about cooperating with ICE amid fears that officers would indiscriminately arrest migrants throughout the country.

ICE often relies on local jails to cooperate with them, in order for deportation officers to pick up migrants they want to detain and deport.

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