The tragic death of Kate Steinle in July, 2015 furthered an already volatile debate over sanctuary cities. Immigration conservatives used the slaying to levy false attacks on sanctuary cities by arguing these cities harbored violent criminals, a phrase they rhetorically attached to “illegal immigration.” Legislation offered and talking points presented and popularized by the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz revealed dramatic and over-the-top solutions to a relatively insignificant problem.
Their unwillingness to act on guns shows that the ilk of Trump and Cruz seize nativist sentiments that always flair after these tragedies to enact xenophobic laws. Steinle’s horrific death provided a race-baiting opportunity make the country less safe for immigrants; gun deaths, such as the Las Vegas massacre that saw over 600 casualties, provide no such opportunity and so fade quickly and often quietly, with no reform move pushed by the far-right.
Contrary to popular belief and Trump’s claims, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native population. The incarceration rate for illegal immigrants stands at 0.50 whereas it’s 1.53 percent for native-born Americans. Similarly, far from being hotbeds of crime, sanctuary cities are actually safer than their non-sanctuary counterparts.
Statistics didn’t stop Trump from directing the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly “comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.” To incite racial fears, Trump directed DHS to compile and distribute a report of all crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Imagine the outrage had President Barack Obama asked for a list of crimes committed by those here legally, or of gun crimes.
The reflexive desire to make cities safer for all should be honored. That’s not the case with Trump and Cruz’s proposed reforms, which vilify all illegal immigrants and would make it more difficult for them to report crimes or utilize the judicial system without threat of deportation. That, of course, makes illegal immigrant communities less safe and, for instance, could consign individuals to continued domestic abuse as going to the police could result in their own deportation.
Furthermore, Trump and Cruz’s utter refusal to act on gun safety legislation show their commitment not to public safety, but to race-baiting and using resurgent nativism to gain political power and enact xenophobic reforms. Guns kills around 30,000 a year in a variety of manners: Suicide (about two-thirds), homicide (about 30 percent), domestic violence, accidental death, etc. A small percentage of gun deaths from terrorism or mass shootings.
There are a number of simple reforms that would lower the number of gun deaths in a given year. Truly universal background checks that cover all transactions, including private ones, would make a difference. So would ending default proceed and closing the intimate partner loophole. These reforms target the vast majority of gun related deaths and while they obviously wouldn’t bring the rate to zero, they would almost certainly lower the overall gun death rate.
Other reforms to target mass shootings wouldn’t affect the death rate much because mass shootings account for such a low percentage of total gun deaths. That said, supporting those reforms would be in line with reflexive action to national tragedies and could prevent future bloodshed. A very simply reform would be to ban bump stocks, modifications that make guns act like automatic weapons.
Automatic weapons are illegal. Shouldn’t aftermarket additions that make a gun de facto automatic also be outlawed? No one pretends this would solve the gun problem, but it seems like such an obvious reform — and one, had it been in place, that could have saved lives in Las Vegas — that even the NRA hinted at not opposing such actions (publicly, at least).
But Trump and Cruz don’t support such an effort. The two who seized Kate Steinle’s death to push major immigration overhaul not only refuse to back gun legislation aimed at the overall problem, but won’t endorse minor legislation that in no way comes close to challenging the Second Amendment and whose logic seems so self-evident, especially after the worst mass shooting in America history.
Trump and Cruz don’t care about public safety. They care about mobilizing racial grievances and underlying bigotry to enact sweeping legislation that casts immigrants as villains and makes communities less safe.
Two fluky events and two very different responses for one reason: You can’t race-bait with a white man killing 58 and injuring 546 others.