Crash spurs request for immigration data

As sisters of the Benedictine order gather in Bristow, Va., for a five-day retreat, a crash blamed on drunken driving kills one nun and critically injures two others, adding gravity and emotion to the event.
By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010

The chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors has asked Congress to subpoena certain Immigration and Customs Enforcement records that he thinks will outrage the general public and make the Obama administration take a closer look at immigration reform.

On Thursday, Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) sent letters to several members of Congress, asking them to subpoena ICE records that show how many illegal immigrants are being released from ICE custody back into the county and what crimes they are accused of committing.

Stewart said that county officials have tried over the years to get the information but that their requests have gone unanswered. With Congress behind him, however, he thinks that will change.

"Once I have these numbers, I will publicize them as much as possible," said Stewart, who also sent a copy of the letter to the director of ICE. "I think the vast majority of Americans are going to be absolutely shocked at the Obama administration's policy of releasing illegal aliens who have committed crimes and pose a clear threat back into their neighborhoods."

Stewart said his action was prompted by a car crash Sunday in Bristow in which a nun was killed and two others were seriously injured. Carlos A. Martinelly-Montano, who is charged with drunken driving and involuntary manslaughter in the crash, entered the United States illegally as a child. He was released by immigration authorities after two previous drunken driving convictions and had been awaiting a deportation hearing.

The nuns' religious order has asked people not to politicize the crash.

Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, said Stewart was ignoring that appeal.

"I think Corey Stewart has a proven record of using immigration for political reasons, and I think it's sad he is not heeding the call from the nuns," Martinez said. "He has built a political career on railing against immigration and adopting decisions that have led to the problem he is railing about now."

Martinez said Stewart's push for a crackdown on illegal immigration has led to the system's being overwhelmed. The county's policy, adopted in 2007 and modified in 2008, requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested on suspicion of violating a state or local law.

Stewart said he plans to appear before a congressional subcommittee on immigration, although no appearance is scheduled.

Stewart, who announced his plan Thursday on CNN, said the problem is not that ICE officials are "evil," they just don't have the resources to do their job. Stewart said the numbers, if released by ICE, will speak for themselves and hopefully rally the community and Congress to take a closer look at immigration reform.

When asked whether Stewart had a chance of obtaining the information, ICE responded with national statistics. In fiscal 2009, of 380,000 illegal immigrants detained by ICE, 117,000 were potentially eligible to be released back into the community, said ICE spokesman Matthew Chandler, who declined to comment directly on Stewart's request.

David Leopold, national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Congress has "tremendous authority" and can ask for whatever information it wants.

ICE releases statistics on deportations of illegal immigrants, Leopold said, and as long as Stewart isn't asking for information about specific cases, ICE should be able to provide the information.

Leopold, however, said he doesn't know whether Congress will give a positive response to Stewart's plea.

"I would think people in Congress would pause" before acting on the request, he said. "There is no logical reason that this information is going to help in this case."

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