Earlier this month, in response to the tragic shooting of Kathryn Steinle, The Remembrance Project (TRP) called for a “national boycott of the city of San Francisco” due to its so-called “sanctuary” law enforcement policies. TRP is a group that spins tragedy into political opportunity; their stated purpose is to “honor and remember Americans who have been killed by illegal aliens.”
However, in an overt act of political opportunism, TRP’s founder – whose coordination with the organized anti-immigrant movement has increased substantially in recent years – decided to break that boycott and hold a press conference at the site where Steinle was shot.
On Monday, Remembrance Project founder Maria Espinoza, who lives in Texas, was joined by several California anti-immigrant activists in San Francisco for a press conference. The event was held steps away from a memorial created by city residents for Steinle at the site of her killing. Espinoza donned a bulletproof vest and lambasted so-called sanctuary policies that police employ in more than 200 jurisdictions in an effort to improve relations with immigrant communities.
According to one event participant, Espinoza and other speakers at the press conference wore the vests “to emphasize the danger of a sanctuary city.”
The press conference was organized by a group calling itself “Citizens for Safe Cities.” The group created a Facebook account over the weekend and invited 518 people to attend Monday’s press conference. Based on photos and a local media report, approximately 15 people attended the event to witness Espinoza’s cynical display.
Perhaps tellingly, it does not appear that any members of the Steinle family were present.
Robin Hvidston, one of southern California’s most prominent anti-immigrant activists and leader of We the People Rising, was in attendance at the event. According to a report Hvidston sent to supporters this morning, she introduced Espinoza and the event’s other featured speakers, California-based Tea Party activists Debbie Bacigalupi and Georgine Scott-Codiga.
Virulently nativist writer and activist Brenda Walker was also present. Walker has long-standing ties to the organized anti-immigrant movement and her writing is regularly featured in outlets like John Tanton’s white nationalist quarterly journal, The Social Contract, and Peter Brimelow’s nativist and anti-Black VDARE.com. The evening before the press conference, VDARE.com published a blog by Walker in which she described illegal immigration as “the 21st century’s more polite form of war.”
Rick Oltman, a former employee of anti-immigrant groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), was also photographed at the event. Oltman, similarly, is no stranger to white nationalism. The notorious Council of Conservative Citizens has described Oltman as a member of their white nationalist organization and he is a regular Social Contract contributor.
Monday’s press conference follows Espinoza’s trip to Washington DC last week to attend the Senate and House Judiciary committee hearings on immigration enforcement policies. Both hearings featured testimony from Ms. Steinle’s father, Jim.
Espinoza’s recent work has been aided by larger anti-immigrant groups in the Beltway. These groups have used the tragic Steinle case to push for overzealous enforcement measures that are quintessential tenets of the nativist doctrine of self-deportation.
In his testimony before Congress last week, Jim Steinle’s words were measured and recognized the complexity of immigration law while arguing for the need to make changes to prevent tragedies like his daughter’s shooting. Legislative efforts to encourage and ensure ICE officials use warrants, rather than detainers that have been found unconstitutional by multiple courts, to assume custody from local jurisdictions would be one such measure.
Such reforms, however, should not punish or make enforcement efforts harder in jurisdictions that seek to improve police-community relations. They should not advance the nativist movement’s “attrition through enforcement” agenda. And they must not be inspired by disrespectful stunts like Maria Espinoza’s that fail to advance policy debates in any meaningful way.