- Associated Press - Sunday, August 8, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — In Arizona, the shooting death of a rancher blew the lid off simmering anger over border security and helped solidify support for a tough new immigration law. A similar eruption threatens in Virginia following the death of a Catholic nun in a car accident involving a man in the country illegally and accused of drunken driving.

The Benedictine Sisters of Virginia tried to discourage using the death of Sister Denise Mosier as a “forum of the illegal immigration agenda” and pleaded for a focus on “Christ’s command to forgive.”

“The sisters’ mission is peace and love,” said Corey Stewart, chairman of Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors. “My mission is law enforcement and the protection of public safety.”

Prince William County, about 25 miles southwest of Washington, stepped up its immigration enforcement in 2007 amid explosive growth of its Hispanic and immigrant populations. Under Mr. Stewart’s leadership, the county implemented a local policy requiring police to determine the immigration status of all people arrested on suspicion of violating state or local laws.

Mr. Stewart rushed back into the immigration debate after the Aug. 1 accident, firing off a statement that President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and members of Congress “all have blood on their hands.”

“What I’m hoping is that this situation, which because it involves a nun has drawn the nation’s attention, can serve as a catalyst for change and force the administration to come clean about its catch-and-release policies,” Mr. Stewart said. He also said that the tragedy illustrates the need for Virginia to toughen its drunken-driving laws.

Even though Mr. Stewart said he’s not running for higher office now, he is seen as a possible lieutenant governor candidate in three years.

“Regardless of what he says, there is no question people would be interested in seeing him move up within the Republican Party,” said Stephen Farnsworth, an assistant communications professor at George Mason University.

The day after the crash, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II issued an advisory opinion concluding that police have the authority to inquire into the immigration status of any person stopped or arrested, similar to the Arizona immigration law that is under federal court review.

Arizona passed the law after rancher Robert Krentz was fatally shot while checking water lines on his property near the Arizona-Mexico border. Authorities believe a scout for drug smugglers is to blame, although an investigation continues.

The sisters at the Bristow, Va., monastery have buried Sister Mosier, who would have turned 67 on Aug. 26. Two other nuns injured in the crash, Sister Charlotte Lange and Sister Connie Ruth Lupton, have undergone surgery and remain in critical condition.

The man charged in the case, Carlos A. Martinelly Montano, 23, of Bolivia, had two prior drunken-driving convictions but was not required to serve any of his 30-day sentence for the first one. A Prince William County judge required Mr. Montano to serve only 20 days of his approximately one-year sentence on his second conviction.

Local officials turned him over to federal immigration enforcement officers after the second incident and after sentencing, but federal officers released him both times while he awaited hearings.

Mr. Montano is being held at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center, and the county’s prosecutor is promising to ask a grand jury to consider charges that could put him in prison for 40 years.

Mr. Montano entered the United States illegally with his parents and siblings, his uncle Luis Ronald Montano told the Associated Press. He attended American schools in New Jersey and Virginia from third grade through high school. He is engaged and is the father of two boys, ages 1 and 2, who were born in Manassas, Va.

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