A local Washington, D.C.-area story now gaining traction nationally as part of the superheated illegal immigration debate involves a nun killed after a man with past DUI convictions and awaiting deportation slammed into her car Sunday. He was charged with being legally drunk at the time of the accident.
The crash killed Sister Denise Mosier who was on her way with two other nuns to a religious retreat in a Washington suburb when their car was hit by one driven by Carlos A. Martinelly Montano, 23, an illegal immigrant from Bolivia. The two other nuns in the car were injured and in critical condition.
Montano had drunk driving arrests in 2007 and 2008. After the 2008 arrest he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Service at the time but was later released while he was placed in the deportation process.
A Washington Post story provided some important background from Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert. An excerpt:
Reading from a computer printout, Ebert recited a list of Montano's arrests or citations — under several names and Social Security numbers, he said — for reckless driving in 2006; speeding on two occasions in 2007; public drunkenness in 2007; driving an uninspected vehicle in 2008; and three instances of driving after a license revocation, in 2008, last year and in April.
Ebert said Montano was not sentenced to jail for any of the offenses, all but one of which occurred in Northern Virginia.
The two cases that disturb him most, Ebert said, are Montano's drunken-driving convictions in 2007 and 2008.
On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked why Montano hadn't been deported. According to an Associated Press story, she said she had the same question and was investigating. The relevant excerpt:
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called the crash a "terrible thing" when asked about the incident during an unrelated news conference at D.C. police headquarters Tuesday. Napolitano said she immediately asked officials to look into the situation.
"This is a horrible case," said Napolitano, whose department includes ICE. "Why is it that this individual was still out driving? He was in removal proceedings. Why were the removal proceedings taking so long?"
The AP goes on to report that local and congressional politicians criticized the federal government's handling of the case:
Prince William County's top elected leader and a Kentucky congressman, both Republicans, criticized federal immigration officials for not deporting Montano.
"As the facts surrounding this tragic case continue to come to light, I think it demonstrates the need for ICE to be more efficient and effective in their deportation duties," Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers said in an e-mailed statement.
Corey Stewart, the chairman of Prince William County's Board of Supervisors, says the accident highlights the need for federal immigration reform. Stewart championed and implemented one of the nation's strictest county-level anti-illegal immigration policies. The local law requires that police inquire about the immigration status of all people arrested on suspicion of violating a state or local law. He says it's "extremely frustrating" that even with the county's policy, not all those turned over to ICE are removed from the country.
Meanwhile, members of the dead nun's order were unhappy with how the case has become just more evidence in the raging immigration debate.
From the Washington Post:
The religious order that was home to three nuns whose car was hit Sunday morning by an alleged drunk driver in Northern Virginia said it is upset at what it views as the politicization of the incident.
Sister Glenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the Benedictine Sisters, said Tuesday that "we are dismayed" by reports that the crash, which killed one woman and critically injured two others, is focusing attention on the man's status as an alleged illegal immigrant. Critics of federal immigration policy have seized on the crash.
The nuns may be nonplussed by how the case has taken on larger meaning. But anyone who has followed the immigration debate for a while could see this coming.
Many heinous crimes committed or alleged to have been done by illegal immigrants will get attention for the foreseeable future since they will underscore some of the strong narratives of the debate.
Such stories reinforce the argument that the U.S. government is failing to protect its citizens.
They also play into the perception that for a significant number of illegal immigrants, crossing the border without the proper documents was just one in a long string of criminal actions they've engaged in.