- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

Beyond belief

Americans can thank Federico Ortega for demonstrating firsthand the deplorable state of national security in the United States.

This columnist is just now returned from snowy Aspen, Colo. Usually during these winter months, the Aspen Daily News reports on ski conditions and which Hollywood stars hosted the most exclusive slopeside parties.

But make room this holiday season for the incredible odyssey of Ortega, an illegal alien from Mexico, who recently was deported from Colorado to Mexico “in order that he didn’t go back into our streets” — or so thought one U.S. federal immigration official.

Get a load of this: Two days — that’s right, a mere two days — after the 30-year-old Ortega was physically returned to Mexico, he made his way back to Colorado, “packing a loaded .45-caliber handgun, two clips, a packet of methamphetamine and a pipe for smoking it,” Colorado Bureau of Investigation officer Curt Williams told reporter Gary Harmon.

But there’s more to this amazing tale. Before his deportation, Ortega was being held by Colorado authorities on, among other charges, suspicion of attempted second-degree murder, possession of a weapon, assault of a 15-year-old girl, violation of bail conditions and possession of drugs with intent to distribute.

It was while he was locked up in a county jail on $125,000 bail that an “immigration hold” was put on Ortega, which allowed the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to step in and take custody of the accused. Instead of the more severe attempted second-degree murder penalty, Ortega was charged with second-degree assault, posted a $2,500 bond and got sent across the bridge into Mexico from El Paso, Texas.

Needless to say, local authorities in Colorado this week are “bewildered by the chain of events that took Ortega from custody in the county jail to a federal lockup, then to Mexico and then back within days,” writes Mr. Harmon.

“Ortega’s speed in returning to Colorado,” he adds, “took aback Steve Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. ‘The border’s really, really porous,’ Camarota said, ‘but that’s quick.’”

Now, once again, Ortega is behind bars in a Colorado jail, albeit this time bail has been set at more than $1 million. And federal officials are contemplating filing their own case against the Mexican, including a charge of illegal re-entry into the United States.

Not to worry. Colorado prosecutor Myrl Serra says he would insist that local officials try Ortega first before handing him over again to U.S. immigration officials to face any federal charges.

“They can wait,” Mr. Serra said. “They had their chance with him.”

I hereby resolve

Arguably the most difficult job in the world is being president of the United States.

That’s why Inside the Beltway fans like Marco Cappabianca of the Boston Company Asset Management firm in Boston and Lester Berry of IBM have written to remind us that it’s time once again to invite readers to submit a New Year’s resolution on behalf of President Bush.

Mr. Bush says he reads Inside the Beltway “every day,” so who knows — perhaps he’ll resolve your resolve.

Last year, Mr. Bush … er, Inside the Beltway readers, resolved to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2005, while others insisted the only way to bring peace and stability to the warring nation was by sending in more U.S. troops. Others resolved to step up the hunt for Osama bin Laden, who, despite the good intentions, remains as elusive today as he was one year ago.

Whatever you wish to resolve on behalf of the president in this new year of 2006 — whether it’s dealing with Democrats (Capitol Hill has not been this divided in decades), handling hurricanes like Katrina or expelling illegal aliens — send your resolutions to the e-mail address below. Please include your name and city and state of residence.

On Friday, we’ll publish as many resolutions as space permits.

Yum

And what did President and Mrs. Bush feast on for Christmas Day lunch?

Herb-roasted free-range turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, pancetta green beans, sweet-potato souffle, cranberry sauce, clover rolls with honey butter, pumpkin and pecan pies, and red velvet cake.

Stuffing Tiki

That was New York Giants running back Tiki Barber dining out with friends at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse near the White House on Friday, the night before his team was soundly defeated by the Washington Redskins.

One of the restaurant’s employees — a New York transplant, we have to assume — happened to have a Giants football helmet in his car, which he retrieved and had autographed by the 30-year-old Mr. Barber, who graduated from the University of Virginia.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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