The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Immigration officials confirm alleged Pelosi attacker was in the U.S. illegally

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is escorted to a vehicle outside of her home in San Francisco on Wednesday. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
4 min

The man accused of attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer is a Canadian citizen who was in the United States illegally and is facing possible deportation after his criminal cases are resolved, the Department of Homeland Security said late Wednesday.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lodged an immigration detainer on Canadian national David DePape with San Francisco County Jail, Nov. 1, following his Oct. 28 arrest,” DHS officials said in an email.

ICE, which is under Homeland Security, sends “detainers” to state and local law enforcement asking them to notify the agency before releasing a foreign citizen who could also be deported. Deportations are civil proceedings that often take place after criminal cases are resolved, but immigrants also have been detained after they post bail.

DePape, 42, is facing state and federal criminal charges in the gruesome attack on Paul Pelosi, 82, early Friday morning, and for threatening Nancy Pelosi. DePape has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody.

Relatives have told the media that DePape grew up in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, but his trajectory to Northern California has remained a mystery.

Federal records show that DePape entered the United States legally on March 8, 2008, via Mexico. He crossed at the San Ysidro port of entry, an official border crossing that links San Diego County with Tijuana.

Canadians traveling for business or pleasure generally do not require visas, officials said, and he was admitted as a “temporary visitor,” traveling for pleasure, DHS said.

Canadians admitted for pleasure are generally permitted to stay for up to six months. DHS did not say precisely when DePape’s permission to stay in the United States expired.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed gratitude on Nov. 4 in her first public remarks about the Oct. 28 attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi. (Video: Team Pelosi via Youtube)

Pelosi’s attacker told police he was on a ‘suicide mission,’ court filings allege

The Canadian government confirmed this week that they were working on DePape’s case.

“Canadian officials are engaging with local authorities to obtain more information,” said Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Charlotte MacLeod. “Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed.”

California, home to millions of immigrants, is a sanctuary state and has passed laws limiting state and local law enforcement’s cooperation with immigration officials, which has frustrated immigration officials seeking to deport immigrants arrested for crimes.

California has exceptions for people with serious criminal histories and it remains unclear how DePape’s case will unfold. State prosecutors have said he poses an extreme safety risk.

Federal authorities on Monday filed attempted kidnapping and assault charges against DePape, alleging he broke into the Pelosi home, bludgeoned her husband with a hammer in front of police, and then said he wanted to break Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps as a warning to other Democrats.

DePape also was arraigned Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court on state charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary, false imprisonment and threatening the life of or serious bodily harm to a public official.

David Wayne DePape, 42, pled not guilty to attempted murder and other charges in San Francisco on Nov. 1. (Video: Reuters)

Court records show DePape allegedly used the hammer to break into the House speaker’s San Francisco home early Friday and rousted her husband, who was sleeping upstairs.

“Are you Paul Pelosi?” DePape allegedly said when he confronted Pelosi, court records show, standing over him holding a hammer and zip ties. “Where’s Nancy?”

Paul Pelosi managed to call 911. But when officers arrived and told DePape to drop the hammer, he pulled free and struck Pelosi in the head, knocking him unconscious.

State prosecutors called the attack “near fatal.”

Paul Pelosi underwent surgery to repair a “skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands,” according to a statement issued by Drew Hammill, spokesman for Nancy Pelosi. The speaker has said her husband is making steady progress toward recovery.

David DePape, 42, is facing state and federal criminal charges after attacking Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on Oct. 28. (Video: The Washington Post)

DePape allegedly told police he was on a “suicide mission” and had created a target list of state and federal politicians in his quest to quash “lies” coming out of Washington.

DePape also had published hundreds of blog posts in recent months supporting far-right personalities and writing diatribes against Jews, Black people, Democrats, the media and transgender people.

Alleged assailant filled blog with delusional thoughts in days before Pelosi attack

The attack added to the growing concerns nationwide about the threats posed by domestic violent extremists as the Nov. 8 midterm elections approach.

The FBI, DHS and other agencies issued a memo last week warning that extremism could increase in the 90-day post-election period, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Washington Post.

The memo said the most plausible threat “is posed by lone offenders who leverage election-related issues to justify violence.”

Worry about election-related violence prompted President Biden to make a speech in Washington Wednesday night.

“We must, with one overwhelming unified voice, speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans,” Biden said. “No place, period. No place, ever.”

Holly Bailey, Aaron C. Davis and Dalton Bennett contributed to this report.