Deaths in Den­ver fan il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion de­bate

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARDSON

DEN­VER | An il­le­gal im­mi­grant charged with caus­ing a two-car crash that left three peo­ple dead ear­lier this month, in­clud­ing a 3year-old get­ting ice cream with his mother, had been ar­rested re­peat­edly, but never de­ported — and now Colorado law­mak­ers are scram­bling for cover and pass­ing blame.

Gov. Bill Rit­ter Jr., a Demo­crat, said the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has un­der­staffed U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, leav­ing it un­able to re­spond when lo­cal au­thor­i­ties tried to have the man de­ported ear­lier this year.

But fed­eral au­thor­i­ties say they have no record of the re­port, and Rep. Tom Tan­credo, Colorado Repub­li­can, says the “blood from this in­ci­dent” is on the hands of Den­ver of­fi­cials for pro­tect­ing the sus­pect’s iden­tity.

The tragedy could serve to push im­mi­gra­tion and so-called “sanc­tu­ary city” poli­cies back to the fore in an elec­tion-bat­tle­ground state, de­spite the ef­forts of both ma­jor pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns to take the is­sue off the ta­ble.

“This is a ter­ri­ble tragedy, and at the same time, some­thing we should be out­raged by,” said Mr. Rit­ter on KOA-AM’s “The Mike Rosen Show.”

Fran­cis Her­nan­dez, 23, was be­ing held Sept. 10 on $250,000 bail af­ter be­ing charged with ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter. He’s ac­cused of run­ning a red light in a sport util­ity ve­hi­cle and broad­sid­ing a truck Sept. 4, hurl­ing the truck and the SUV into an ice cream shop, killing three peo­ple, in­clud­ing a three-year-old boy, Marten Kudlis, who was get­ting an ice cream cone with his mother.

The two women in the truck, best friends Debbie Serecky, 51, and Pa­tri­cia Gun­tharp, 49, also died at the scene.

Mr. Rit­ter said the blame for Mr. Her­nan­dez still be­ing in the coun­try lies with the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, which he said “did not get any­thing done at the fed­eral level” even af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion as a top do­mes­tic pri­or­ity.

“The frus­tra­tion here is that states and lo­cal­i­ties can’t de­port any­one,” said Mr. Rit­ter. “I don’t think ICE agents are sit­ting around twid­dling their thumbs. I think they’re ter­ri­bly un­der­staffed.”

A 2006 Colorado law re­quires state and lo­cal po­lice to no­tify fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties af­ter ar­rest­ing sus­pected il­le­gal im­mi­grants for crimes other than mi­nor traf­fic of­fenses. And lo­cal au­thor­i­ties said they did just that.

But ICE spokesman Carl Rus­nok said the agency had no record of be­ing con­tacted about Mr. Her­nan­dez.

“ICE be­lieves Her­nan­dez was con­vinc­ingly mas­querad­ing as a U.S. ci­ti­zen for years. In such cases, of­fi­cers may not have sus­pected him as be­ing any­thing other than a U.S. ci­ti­zen,” said Mr. Rus­nok, adding that the depart­ment does “as much as our time and re­sources per­mit.”

Aurora po­lice spokesman Bob Friel said the depart­ment had ar­rested Mr. Her­nan­dez as re­cently as April 25 on a fugi­tive war­rant for speed­ing, fail­ure to sig­nal, hav­ing no in­sur­ance and mak­ing a false state­ment to po­lice. Mr. Her­nan­dez was sent to the Ara­pa­hoe County jail, where county of­fi­cials re­ferred him to ICE, he said.

Mr. Friel said Aurora po­lice made more than 2,500 re­fer­rals to ICE last year, but that only a small frac­tion of those were ac­tu­ally in­ves­ti­gated.

“We’re clearly try­ing to abide by the law, which re­quires us to re­fer sus­pects to ICE. We did that 2,500 times last year. We want to be a good part­ner with ICE. But we’re not get­ting that sup­port,” said Mr. Friel.

Mean­while, the po­lit­i­cal fin­ger­point­ing in­ten­si­fied as Repub­li­cans ac­cused Mr. Rit­ter and Den­ver Mayor John Hick­en­looper, a Demo­crat, of con­don­ing lax poli­cies on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, mak­ing Den­ver a sanc­tu­ary city known for pro­tect­ing il­le­gals.

Mr. Tan­credo, a for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who has cham­pi­oned clamp­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, named Mr. Hick­en­looper, say­ing “blood from this in­ci­dent is on his hands.”

“How many more peo­ple have to die be­fore Gov­er­nor Rit­ter and his open-bor­ders al­lies get the pic­ture?” Mr. Tan­credo said. “There are a num­ber of steps the gov­er­nor could have taken and now should take if he wants to con­vince us he has in­deed seen the light. I will once again pro­vide him with a road map to a suc­cess­ful pol­icy deal­ing with crim­i­nal aliens.”

Mr. Hick­en­looper coun­tered that Den­ver rou­tinely refers more than 2,000 ar­restees to fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials. “No mat­ter how many times Con­gress­man Tan­credo says it, Den­ver is not a sanc­tu­ary city,” said Mr. Hick­en­looper.

Fed­eral law re­quires co­op­er­a­tion with im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties, but many lo­cal­i­ties have passed their own laws or poli­cies pre­vent­ing po­lice or other of­fi­cials from re­port­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Some cities ar­gue il­le­gal im­mi­grants who are vic­tims of crimes are more likely to come for­ward and re­port those crimes un­der sanc­tu­ary poli­cies.

Sanc­tu­ary cities are just one part of a broad im­mi­gra­tion de­bate that roiled the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary early this year, but im­mi­gra­tion all but dis­ap­peared as an is­sue af­ter Sen. John McCain emerged from that con­test.

Both he and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sen. Barack Obama agree on the gen­eral out­lines of le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants and re­vamp­ing the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, though Mr. McCain says bor­ders must be se­cured first, while Mr. Obama says all parts must be done at the same time.

Whether Den­ver is ac­tu­ally a sanc­tu­ary city has been de­bated for years. In his in­ter­view with the gov­er­nor, host Mike Rosen said that, on a scale of one to 10, with San Fran­cisco be­ing a 10 as sanc­tu­ary cities go, Den­ver was “about a seven.”

Colorado House Mi­nor­ity Leader Mike May blamed Mr. Rit­ter, point­ing to his record as Den­ver district at­tor­ney, when he was ac­cused of cut­ting deals with il­le­gal im­mi­grants to have charges against them re­duced.

“This re­cent tragedy now ap­pears to be the di­rect re­sult of such poli­cies, and I find it rep­re­hen­si­ble,” said Mr. May.

The gov­er­nor blasted Repub­li­cans for what he called “po­lit­i­cal pan­der­ing,” adding that “this is not the time or place.”

For­mer Gov. Dick Lamm, a Demo­crat and an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, said too many pub­lic of­fi­cials “wink” at the is­sue.

“It’s of­ten said our im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is bro­ken, but now our lawen­force­ment sys­tem seems to be bro­ken, too,” said Mr. Lamm.


Marten Kudlis’ mother (right) grieves at the scene in Aurora, Colo., where the 3-year-old boy was killed in an ac­ci­dent last week. An il­le­gal im­mi­grant is charged with ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter and is be­ing held on $250,000 bail in the two-car crash that also killed two women.


NOT DE­PORTED: Fran­cis Her­nan­dez, an il­le­gal im­mi­grant, is charged in three deaths.

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