WASHINGTON – Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) last week pressed Immigration and Customs Enforcement for answers concerning Nemias Garcia-Velasco, an illegal immigrant who was deported multiple times before being accused of killing one person and injuring another earlier this summer while driving under the influence in Nebraska.
Garcia-Velasco, whose blood alcohol content was later recorded at more than three times the legal limit, was traveling over 100 mph on Interstate 80 on July 5 when he lost control of his van. A man was killed and a 16-year-old boy injured in the afternoon fiery crash near the Interstate 680 split in Omaha, one of Nebraska’s busiest junctures. The Douglas County Attorney’s Office has charged Garcia-Velasco, a Mexico native, with motor vehicle homicide. Court filings show that Garcia-Velasco had been deported seven times — five times through voluntary return in 2005 and twice more in 2009 and 2011.
Sasse, in an Aug. 3 letter to ICE officials, also drew attention to Eswin Mejia, an illegal immigrant who was allegedly street racing in a pickup truck while intoxicated in January 2016 when he rammed into the back of 21-year-old Sarah Root’s vehicle in Omaha. Root, who had graduated from Bellevue University earlier that day, died at the hospital after suffering a severed spinal cord and fractured skull. According to Sasse, Omaha Police requested that the ICE officials apprehend Mejia, who had prior offenses including a missed court date. ICE did not follow through on the request, and Mejia has since fled. Because he remains at large, Sasse said that the Root family has been “deprived of justice.”
“We cannot let these tragedies become the new normal,” Sasse said in a statement. “The revolving door for dangerous illegal aliens needs to stop. ICE has to step up, answer Nebraskans’ questions, and fix this broken enforcement system.”
Sasse requested details from ICE about Garcia-Velasco’s various return trips to Mexico, his criminal past, federal communications with him and any information on attempts to apprehend the individual. The Nebraska lawmaker also asked for details about the priority ICE gave Garcia-Velasco due to his criminal history.
Lawmakers around the country have pointed to a multitude of stories similar to the cases of Garcia-Velasco and Mejia, in which illegal activity by a person in the country illegally has resulted in the death of an American citizen. In July, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) welcomed the launch of Advocates for Victims of Alien Crime, an advocacy group whose family members have died in incidents involving illegal immigrants.
Immigration groups and advocates, while recognizing the tragedy of the events, have pointed to statistics that show legal and illegal immigrants aren’t any more likely to commit these crimes than the general U.S. population. Statistics from the Cato Institute earlier this year revealed that both documented and undocumented immigrants are incarcerated at rates lower than native citizens.
Harold Eavenson, president of the National Sheriffs Association and sheriff of Rockwall County in central Texas, said in an interview Tuesday that the criminal statistics argument takes a “defeatist attitude.”
American citizens “could” commit these crimes, “and they do, but when we’ve got people in our country illegally to begin with, and they’re committing some of the crimes that we hear about – rape and murder, armed robbery – it’s disgusting that we can’t take a more positive attitude,” he said.
Eavenson detailed how fellow sheriffs and ranchers in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have changed their stances in recent years when it comes to property and crime.
“Those ranchers told me, and other sheriffs, that they now fear for their life almost daily, and they wouldn’t think about leaving their keys in their pickup, and they wouldn’t think about not locking their houses, and they wouldn’t think about having an alarm system in their house,” said Eavenson.
The Rockwall County sheriff also praised the current administration’s direction on immigration policy, noting that the Border Patrol has been “elated” with the changes in policies because it allows them “to do their jobs.”
“We’ve had a broken immigration system for 40 years, and that includes both Democrats and Republicans, and now it appears that we have somebody who’s interested in trying to fix it,” Eavenson said.