Monday, March 10, 2008

Car Crashes Creates New Question About Bonds for Illegal Immigrants

People are asking questions about why an illegal immigrant who was charged with killing a Spanish Fork man in a car wreck was allowed to make bail, and the answers differ depending on who is giving them.

Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to investigate the immigration status of 21-year-old Gabriel Hernandez, while ICE officials say they were not properly informed of his arrest. Tracy said internal jail documents show that jail officials made two calls to the ICE office in Orem before Hernandez was released on bail.

Hernandez, of Orem, was arrested by Spanish Fork police on Jan. 31 and booked into the Utah County Jail on a charge of negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor. Police said he lost control of his car on an icy road and slid into 83-year-old Albert Burns, killing him. Hernandez was also charged with driving on a denied license and driving with no insurance.

On Thursday, Hernandez missed his arraignment at Spanish Fork's 4th District Court, and a no-bail warrant was issued for his arrest. Burns's wife fears that Hernandez fled to his native Mexico and will never face justice.

In a report, Diana Carrasco, a booking clerk at the Utah County Jail, said she made two calls to the ICE office in Orem asking if the agency wanted the jail to put an immigration hold on Hernandez so they could investigate his immigration status. She made the first call when Hernandez was booked into the jail and the other about an hour later as his mother was paying his bail, she wrote. The clerk also wrote that she faxed a booking report to the ICE office.

Because the charges against Hernandez were misdemeanors and because he had no history with ICE, the agent said "to go ahead and let him post bail and that they would watch for him to go to court. If he was convicted of the charges then they would place a hold on him," Carrasco wrote.

In another report, Deputy Trish Dawe said she spoke to Carrasco a few days later and asked whether she had faxed the booking report to the ICE office.

"She told me that during her discussion about this individual that '[The agent] did not have time to come down and interview [and] to let him go,' " Dawe wrote.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said the agency was not made aware of Hernandez's arrest in a timely fashion. Haley said ICE agents attended the arraignment that Hernandez missed, and went to his apartment in Orem, which had been vacated.

"We weren't able to determine his alienage without interviewing him and obtaining the biographical information that we need," she said on Tuesday.

Haley also said that ICE's primary goal is to remove illegal aliens from the United States, not to assist local law enforcement with prosecutions. When it orders immigration holds on inmates, ICE prioritizes the "worst of the worst," Haley said, including violent offenders and suspects with terrorism connections.

"When ICE takes custody or places a detainer on an individual, it's to initiate removal proceedings," Haley said.

But had ICE been made aware of Hernandez's arrest and charges in time, Haley said the agency would have placed a hold on him so it could have investigated his immigration status.

Tracy said ICE agents had told the jail numerous times in the past that they usually only order holds on inmates who are facing aggravated or felony charges, who have a felony conviction on their records or who have been deported in the past.

Since no ICE hold was ordered for Hernandez, he was allowed to make bail. The $2,300 bail, $230 of which Hernandez had to pay for his release, was determined by a bail schedule established by the state.

Jail officials suspected that Hernandez may have been in the country illegally, but without an ICE hold, they had no grounds to deny him the same bail granted to anyone else, Tracy said. If they had, he said, it would have constituted a federal civil rights violation.

"We don't set that bail, and he has due process rights, and so if he can make the bail and he has no other holds, no other warrants ... he's going to be allowed to bail out," Tracy said.

Tracy said the jail has no way to verify immigration status on its own and has no authority to hold suspected or confirmed illegal aliens on immigration violations. Jail officials will contact ICE to ask if agents want to order a hold so they can investigate when an inmate sets one of several triggers. The primary trigger, Tracy said, is if the inmate was born outside the U.S.

The flap over Hernandez's release comes as the Legislature concluded its debate over a comprehensive immigration bill. The bill, which was submitted to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on Tuesday, includes a number of reforms, including giving police officers more authority to enforce immigration laws.

June Christensen, a neighbor of Burns, said she and her husband, Ken, are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Hernandez's arrest and conviction. She said anyone with information on his whereabouts should contact the Spanish Fork Police Department.

"I'm sure that he didn't mean to do it, but he was driving without the privilege in the United States," she said of Hernandez. "We just want to bring him in if we can find him."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shame on our politicians, shame on ICE, and shame on our local governments for failing to keep our communities safe from illegals. Perhaps it's time we rid our communities of this scum ourselves, conduct our own raids, and drag these individuals sorry behinds to ICE, or the border, ourselves???