Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has demanded a review of why federal immigration authorities released an illegal immigrant after a drunken-driving arrest in 2008 and who now has been charged with manslaughter stemming for a suspected drunken-driving crash that killed a Catholic nun this weekend.
The suspect, Carlos Montano, was first picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in October 2008 after Prince William County police arrested him and accused him of drunken driving, but ICE said he was released on his own recognizance and is still awaiting final deportation proceedings.
"Secretary Napolitano has ordered an immediate review into the circumstances leading to this individual being released in 2008," said Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for Miss Napolitano, adding that the department "regrets the tragic loss of life in Prince William County."
Meanwhile, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, the slain nun's order, issued a statement Tuesday decrying the focus on Mr. Montano's immigration status.
"The Benedictine Sisters are dismayed and saddened that this tragedy has been politicized and become an apparent forum for the illegal immigration agenda," the order said. "While grieving and dealing with the death and severe injuries of our sisters, we would like to re-focus attention on the consequences of drinking and driving, and on Christ's command to forgive."
Sister Denise Mosier was sleeping in the back seat of a car Sunday morning when it was struck by a vehicle driven by Mr. Montano. She was killed and the two other nuns riding with her were critically injured.
Police said they had twice arrested Mr. Montano for drunken driving and on one of those arrests turned him over to ICE. An ICE spokeswoman said he was given a Notice to Appear, was released on his own recognizance and has checked in every time the agency requested.
But the fact that the agency, under both President George W. Bush and President Obama, did not detain him and never pushed to have deportation proceedings sped up has angered lawmakers.
"As the facts surrounding this tragic case continue to come to light, I think it demonstrates the need for ICE to be more efficient and effective in their deportation duties," said Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the homeland security appropriations subcommittee. "This appalling case illustrates why deferred action doesn't work. It underscores why immigration enforcement matters and why this administration's policy of selective amnesty is flawed and potentially dangerous."
Mr. Chandler defended the administration's record, saying under Mr. Obama they have focused "on identifying and removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety." He said they have deported a record number of criminal aliens.
Statistics released last week by ICE show the administration has stepped up removals of illegal immigrants with criminal records, but has slowed deportation of other illegal immigrants.
And ICE is detaining fewer illegal immigrants on an average day than the agency did a year ago, the statistics show.
Part of the problem is the government has not lived up to its promise after the Sept. 11 attacks to build more detention space.
In 2004, the agency had about 20,000 detention beds, but the intelligence overhaul bill passed late that year called for 8,000 more beds a year for five years, meaning the total should have reached 60,000 beds in 2010. But on any given day this year, ICE is detaining only slightly more than 30,000 illegal immigrants.
Drunken-driving arrests don't necessarily rise to the level of seriousness needed for the immigration authorities to detain someone or expedite deportation.
Mr. Montano now faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and a third drunk-driving arrest in a five-year period. He was still being treated at a hospital Tuesday afternoon.
The two surviving nuns were still in critical condition Tuesday, according to their order.
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Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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