The illegal immigrant children streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border have become a breeding pool for criminal gangs, the Frederick County sheriff told Congress on Tuesday, pointing to a long list of crimes including attempted murder and carjacking.
Those children are some of the hundreds of thousands who have sneaked into the U.S. and been allowed to stay under Obama administration interpretations of the law.
Republicans used a hearing Tuesday to highlight some of the consequences and introduced two parents whose children were killed by illegal immigrants who came into the U.S. as minors.
Michelle Root, mother of Sarah Root, recounted her daughter’s death in Omaha, Nebraska, this year at the hands of an illegal immigrant who police said was drag-racing while drunk, smashed into the young woman’s car and left her brain-dead.
A local judge set the immigrant’s bail at “less than the amount it cost to bury my baby,” she said.
Federal immigration authorities refused to pick up the man, allowing him to escape into the shadows and possibly back to his home country, Honduras.
“We are not against immigration. Sarah’s grandmother was an immigrant from Vienna, Austria. She did it right, she did it the right way. That’s all we’re asking,” Mrs. Root told the House Judiciary Committee.
Bishop Minerva Carcano of the United Methodist Church said using stories about children’s deaths as part of a campaign to try to deport illegal immigrants amounted to “blind vengeance.”
“It is unjust, totally unjust, to take isolated, certainly very tragic incidents, and implicate millions of our undocumented community members,” she said.
She added that she found U.S. immigration laws unjust when they tried to prevent “hardworking” people from coming to the U.S. if they were trying to improve their family’s circumstances.
“It is irresponsible to allow children to die,” the bishop said.
Rep. Raul R. Labrador, Idaho Republican, called that testimony disgusting and said the bishop showed no consideration for the pain of Mrs. Root and another victim’s mother, Laura Wilkerson.
Mrs. Wilkerson’s son Josh drove home a fellow high school student, an illegal immigrant, who took that opportunity to punch him, knee him, slash his spleen, take a closet rod and smash his head and then choke him, twice, until he died.
“It’s just heartbreaking to listen to your stories. What happened was wrong, it was unjust, and there’s no way to make it unhappen,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
But Ms. Lofgren said Mr. Labrador was wrong to call the bishop’s testimony disgusting.
“We need to sort out the bad guys from the good,” the congresswoman said.
Immigration authorities have said they botched the handling of the suspect in Sarah Root’s death and have placed him on one of their most-wanted lists.
Mrs. Root pointed to yet another case of an illegal immigrant from Honduras who was charged with a drunken-driving hit-and-run killing Saturday. The suspect in that killing had been deported to Honduras yet made his way back into the U.S., local press reports said.
In Maryland, Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins told Congress that he has seen a massive uptick in the level of criminal behavior from illegal immigrants who arrived as unaccompanied children from Central America, flooding the border in recent years.
Under Obama administration policies, these children are processed and quickly released to social workers, who then place them with families or other sponsors — often illegal immigrants.
The children are still subject to deportation, but those cases are moving so slowly that many turn 18 while awaiting hearings and are being recruiting into criminal gangs, the sheriff said.
He said seven of the 11 criminal alien gang members his office encountered last year arrived as unaccompanied minors, and he listed their crimes: attempted murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, home invasion and carjacking.
“The growing alien gang problem has spread into one high school, where fights and violence between MS-13 and 18th Street are routine,” he said, naming two of the big gangs that recruit from Central America.
The sheriff said violence from Central America follows some of the immigrants, including one who fled El Salvador to avoid an MS-13 hit only to be killed by MS-13 members in the U.S.
Ms. Lofgren chastised Sheriff Jenkins for a federal court finding that his department engaged in racial profiling.
“Racial profiling raises fundamental constitutional concerns. It has no place in law enforcement and certainly not in the Judiciary Committee,” she said.
Sheriff Jenkins said there was no profiling in that case but were responding to a call when a woman took off running.
“These guys were police officers doing their job,” he said.
The appeals court opinion does not conclude that the officers profiled, but it did say they did not have authority to detain the woman solely on the basis of being wanted by federal immigration authorities.