"You have brought this country so much. I am proud to have you as my president," wrote 14-year-old Kayla D. French in a Feb. 3 letter to President Bush. But, she said, "There is one thing I do not agree on and that is the extradition treaty we have with Mexico."
Kayla has good reason to oppose this treaty, and bring it to the president's attention.
Ratified in 1980, the treaty allows Mexico not to surrender suspected murderers wanted in the U.S. unless U.S. prosecutors waive the death penalty. In 2001, following a Mexican Supreme Court decision that declared life imprisonment unconstitutional, Mexico stopped returning suspects unless U.S. prosecutors waived life sentences, too.
This raises a U.S. constitutional issue: If killers who flee to Mexico are guaranteed reduced sentences, killers who don't flee can claim unequal justice.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley wrote to President Bush on Jan. 9 urging him to take up the extradition issue with Mexican President Vicente Fox. Mexico's policy, Cooley wrote, "encourages an already intolerable situation where heinous crimes are committed in this country and fugitives escape justice and further endanger public safety, including that of Mexican nationals, by seeking safe haven in Mexico."
Kayla's stepfather, Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff David March, was the victim of such a crime.
Two years ago, March made a routine traffic stop. The driver turned out to be Armando Garcia, an illegal alien and convicted drug dealer who was wanted on two counts of attempted murder.
When March tried to search Garcia, the suspect allegedly shot the deputy through a gap in his bulletproof vest.
Teri March (Dave's wife and Kayla's mom) told a House subcommittee last year that Garcia then allegedly "turned and shot Dave point-blank in the head."
The suspected killer fled to Mexico, home free.
This would raise a serious issue in U.S.-Mexican relations even if Deputy March were the only American whose suspected killer found sanctuary south of the border. But he's not. "In Southern California, more than 350 violent criminals have fled to Mexico in recent years," Cooley wrote the president. "Authorities have identified more than a dozen cases," the Washington Times reported in January, "in which illegal aliens were accused of injuring or killing a U.S. law-enforcement officer but are believed to have fled to Mexico."
Already this year, President Bush has met twice with President Fox. But in their summit pronouncements, neither man has mentioned extradition.
How can the U.S and Mexico conduct serious business, requiring mutual trust, when Mexico won't even extradite suspected cop killers?
The core issue here is the same one raised by terrorist attacks: The federal government has a duty to defend Americans against killers who enter our country and murder our people. It doesn't matter whether the killer is from al Qaeda or a drug gang. The duty is the same.
Mayors and governors can run schools and build highways. But only the president can make a foreign government hand over a fugitive who has killed an American. President Bush needs to confront President Fox: Is Mexico with us, or against us, in seeking justice for killers?
Teri March, Kayla and Deputy March's parents, John and Barbara, visited Washington last May for the Peace Officers Memorial. Speaking there, President Bush quoted Deputy March: "My goals are simple. I will always be painfully honest, work as hard as I can, learn as much as I can, and make a difference in people's lives." At the rope line, the president spoke to the family.
Teri says she told the president how Mexico was refusing to extradite the suspected killer. "And he said, 'We'll get him back.' Then he gave me a big hug," she says.
After not receiving responses from letters she says she sent the president last year (including one that was hand-delivered at the Peace Officers Memorial), Teri sent another in December by certified mail. (The return receipt says it was delivered Jan. 6, and presidential spokesman Allen Abney told me this week the White House recently mailed Teri an initial acknowledgement of it, stating that the case had been referred to the Justice Department.)
Cooley, says spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons, has not received a reply. Nor have 33 House members who also wrote the president Jan. 9 asking him to take up extradition with Fox.
In her own note, Kayla recalls the president quoting her stepfather. "On that same day," she wrote, "you . . . told us that you were going to get this guy back. Mr. Bush, I am still waiting for you to fulfill your word to us."
The March family deserves action from the president aimed at making Mexico unconditionally extradite killers. So does the rest of America.