A Tragic Death Becomes a Xenophobic Assault on Immigrant Rights

On Friday, July 1, 2015 Kate Steinle was taking a casual stroll on Pier on San Francisco’s Pier 14 with her father, when the unthinkable happened, she was struck by a bullet randomly shot by a stranger. She died from the gunshot wound. This horrifying incident and her sudden death left her grieving family devastated with heartfelt pain, caused people to ponder the senselessness of her death, and has triggered political outrage about the circumstances of her death.

Shortly after the shooting a suspect was caught by police: Francisco López-Sánchez, a Mexican undocumented immigrant, whom the media reported as “five time deportee.” Donald Trump immediately chimed in, receiving national media attention, as he argued that this is proof of his point that Mexico allows its worst people to cross the border into the U.S. including “criminals and rapists.” A debate ensued, becoming less about the actual death of Kate Steinle, who was white, and focused on the fact that López-Sánchez is undocumented. This tragedy has become a soap box for Trump and his supporters to promote an anti-immigrant agenda, lumping all immigrants as criminals; and, attacking sanctuary city policies like San Francisco’s, which prevents local police from automatically detaining people on the basis of being undocumented. There are provisions, however that allow local police to surrender people who have criminal warrants.

Trump has criticized the San Francisco Sanctuary Policy and the San Francisco Sheriff for implementing the city’s sanctuary policy. Conservative Fox News showman, Bill O’Reilly, has also supported Trump’s point of view. Joining the critique of the sheriff is U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein of California and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. The response to what should have been a local homicide investigation has grown into a politically inspired campaign of immigrant bashing, with language that supports the racist argument that all Mexican and Latino immigrants pose a threat to the well-being of Americans. It implies that López-Sánchez’s arrest is demonstrates that Mexicans and Latinos are automatically suspects just because they are Mexicans and Latinos. This illogical reasoning is used to justify increased anti-immigrant hysteria and increases the need for tougher restrictions against immigrants from Mexico.

In the midst of this convoluted case is that new police evidence was produced, showing that the gun used in the shooting may have been recently stolen from a federal agent. López-Sánchez has reportedly said to police that he found the weapon wrapped in a shirt, and as he unwrapped it, the gun went off, accidently shooting Steinle. While it is unclear about the actual circumstances, there is no motive in this case. López-Sánchez did not know Steinle, no words were exchanged between them, and there is no known reason as to why he would have shot her, which supports that argument that Steinle may have been accidentally shot.

If the shooter had been European American the response would have been completely different. There would not be a blanket widespread condemnation of all Americans of European descent and this would not be used as a political weapon to portray all white people as criminals.

This incident following the recent devastating shooting massacre of nine African American people attending a church bible study in Charlotte, South Carolina, by a white racist gunman. While the nation is still mourning over their tragic deaths, along with the continued effort to abolish the Confederate battle flag (a symbol of white terrorism and fascism against African American people), the media has shamefully diverted its attention to López-Sánchez and the tragic death of one white woman. If López-Sánchez had been a white gunman, this would have been local news, not national news, and he would have been given the benefit of the doubt that it may have been an accident, and due process would have run its course.

There is no correlation between the number of undocumented immigrants and increased felony crimes in America, yet this question has been placed at the center of the reports about this tragic death. This incident only affects the debate because Trump and other xenophobes and racists have turned up the propaganda making assumptions without substantial specific data to back up their claims. The emotional backlash that they have generated serves to diminish the human dignity and human rights of undocumented immigrants in particular and immigrants in general.

People must demand that this incident be treated as a criminal investigation, and that Francisco López-Sánchez be given his right to a fair and impartial investigation and followed up with a fair trial. Additionally, the sanctuary cities policies should not be undermined or eliminated. Local police agencies should not automatically hand over undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E. aka La Migra) to be detained for deportation. It is not the duty of local police agencies to act as immigration agents. Lastly, people should demand a just immigration policy that allows honest working people to live and work in the U.S., with a path to citizenship.

Joe Navarro is a teacher, creative writer, poet, a husband, father and grandfather; and, has been an advocate for social justice and social change in labor, community, immigration, anti-U.S. intervention, education, anti-war and human rights issues. His website is http://joenavarro.weebly.com.

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