ICE responds to criticism following nun's death

AP News
Posted: Mar 04, 2011 6:47 PM
ICE responds to criticism following nun's death

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement report made public Friday concludes that new federal immigration policies would have prevented the release of an illegal immigrant who was subsequently charged with killing a nun in an alleged drunken driving accident.

Carlos Montano, 23, who arrived in the United States from Bolivia with his family as a 9-year-old boy, is awaiting trial in Prince William County for involuntary manslaughter. Authorities say he was drunk and caused the August 2010 crash that killed Denise Mosier, a Benedictine nun, and injured two other sisters.

The case fueled nationwide debate over the ICE bureau's immigration policy, especially in Prince William County, where immigration has become a flashpoint. Activists who support strict enforcement of immigration laws wanted to know why Montano hadn't been detained or deported for previous drunken-driving arrests in 2007 and 2008 and a reckless driving conviction earlier in 2010.

According to the report, federal policy at the time of Montano's first arrest was to avoid detaining illegal immigrants whenever possible because of a lack of existing beds.

Current policy calls for ICE to focus on detaining illegal immigrants with a criminal record who pose a threat to public safety.

"Under the priorities outlined in this memorandum, Montano likely would have been detained for three reasons, namely that he was: (1) a convict; (2) a repeat offender; and (3) a demonstrated danger to public safety," according to the report.

ICE says it has dramatically increased the number of beds dedicated to holding immigration detainees, especially in the Washington area, where 500 beds were added last year.

Still, ICE says it can't hold every illegal immigrant charged with a crime, even potentially dangerous crimes like drunken driving.

"Nationwide, however, ICE simply does not have the funding that would be required to detain all aliens charged with or convicted of DUI offenses," according to the report.

Prince William County officials and the conservative legal group Judicial watch had been waiting for months to see the ICE report. Each filed a lawsuit demanding access to the report after Freedom of Information Act requests were unsuccessful.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Friday he believes the publicly released report was scrubbed to remove passages that would prove embarrassing to the Obama administration.

"Most Americans expect illegal aliens to be caught and deported. To use the excuse that 'We don't have enough beds' is so pathetic," said Fitton, who accused the Obama administration has a "neverending supply of reasons" it won't detain illegal immigrants.

The report, though, indicates that ICE agents initially decided not to detain Montano in 2008, when George W. Bush was still president.

Fitton allowed that the Bush administration "has got some answering to do, too."

Calls seeking comment from ICE were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

Prince William County Executive Corey Stewart, who has criticized what he perceives as lax federal immigration enforcement, said in a statement Friday night the report leaves many unanswered questions.

Stewart said the report "... indicates that ICE is, in fact, releasing dangerous criminal illegal aliens instead of deporting them."