Drunken driving is a serious crime that resulted in 10,839 deaths in 2009.
Yet there are numerous documented cases of illegal immigrants who receive convictions for drunken driving and then are not deported. Although these illegal immigrants have no right to be in our country, they remain in the United States. They are simply released and often go on to drink and drive again. This problem can’t continue to be ignored.
In a recent and egregious example, Carlos Martinelly-Montano drove while drunk and crashed into an oncoming car, killing one passenger and critically injuring two others. According to an ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) report, Montano had been arrested for drunken driving twice and reckless driving once. In two of the three cases, his immigration status was never checked – even though he was convicted and sent to jail for the first offense.
Even when he was placed in ICE “custody” after his second DUI arrest, he was released into the streets with a GPS (Global Positioning System) device. However, GPS monitoring doesn’t prevent a released criminal from driving drunk. And we know that drunken drivers involved in fatal crashes are eight times more likely to have a prior drunken driving conviction than other drivers.
On August 1, 2010, Montano got behind the wheel of his vehicle yet again after he had been drinking heavily. This time, tragically, he plowed into a car with three Catholic nuns inside, killing one and severely injuring the two others. Montano was subsequently convicted of felony murder and involuntary manslaughter.
The report claims that Montano would have been detained under subsequent ICE guidelines because he was a repeat offender and he demonstrated himself to be a danger to public safety. However, an anonymous ICE official stated that two drunken driving incidents by an illegal immigrant “aren’t enough to warrant detention.” There is absolutely no reason for the administration’s outrageous policy.
Montano is not an isolated case. In June 2011, an illegal immigrant and habitual drunken driver named Saul Chavez ran over and killed Dennis McCann of Chicago. Chavez had recently finished a sentence of two years of probation for an earlier aggravated drunken driving offense. Chavez was apprehended at the scene of the crime and booked in a Cook County jail. ICE issued a detainer on Chavez, who already had a prior criminal record. The Cook County Jail ignored the detainer and allowed Chavez to post bond. Chavez has since failed to appear in court.
How many people must die before illegal immigrant drunken drivers are detained and removed? Why is it that they are not a priority for our administration? Congress has no choice but to act since the administration apparently is not going to. Rep. Sue Myrick’s bill, House Resolution 3808, the Scott Gardner Act, solves the problem and ensures that illegal immigrants who drink and drive are detained and processed by ICE.
The bill contains common sense measures that:
• Require the detention of illegal immigrants who are apprehended for drunken driving after they are released from custody by local law enforcement.
• Instruct the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the deportation of an illegal immigrant who is convicted of drunken driving.
• Require a state or local law enforcement officer to verify with federal databases the immigration status of a person who the officer has apprehended for drunken driving and has reasonable grounds to believe is an illegal immigrant.
• Give local law enforcement the authority to issue a federal detainer to keep an illegal immigrant arrested for drunken driving in custody until he or she is convicted or transferred to a federal facility.
I strongly support this bill. It ensures that public safety is maintained, that the law is enforced, and that dangerous killers are removed from our communities.
Elton Gallegly represents the 24th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.