SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A man suspected of being in the United States illegally ran a red light while drunk on a street in Oregon’s state capital and crashed into a motorcycle carrying a man and woman, killing them both, authorities said.
A judge set bail for Eduardo de la Lima Vargas at $500,000 on Wednesday, saying he’s a threat to society and a flight risk. The Mexican man was sent back to the Marion County jail, joining the hundreds behind bars in Oregon who federal immigration authorities believe are deportable.
Of the 14,916 inmates in Oregon Department of Corrections prisons, 943 were foreign nationals as of July 1, according to David Olen Cross, who voluntarily compiles data and shares his information with lawmakers, law enforcement, media and others.
All had Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers on them, said Cross, who compiles data from ICE and the state corrections department for his reports.
ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said her agency “only lodges detainers on individuals who are subject to removal, meaning these individuals violated the terms of their lawful status or are in the country illegally.”
The biggest share of foreign national prisoners - 229 - resided in Marion County, Cross said. The county includes the state capital of Salem and many Hispanic communities and is heavily agricultural.
Cases such as the one involving de la Lima Vargas are fueling a debate ahead of the November election, when voters will decide whether Oregon should repeal its sanctuary state law, the nation’s oldest. It prevents law enforcement from detaining people who are in the United States illegally but have not broken other laws.
De la Lima Vargas was intoxicated on Aug. 19 when he drove a pickup truck pulling a loaded horse trailer through a red light in Salem and struck a motorcycle that Logan and Jessica Wilson were riding on, killing the Salem couple, prosecutors said.
De la Lima Vargas is charged with two counts of manslaughter, driving under the influence, reckless driving and recklessly endangering another person.
“There is no question in my mind that there is a danger to the public if Mr. Vargas is released,” Judge David Leith said at Wednesday’s bail hearing. “Circumstances also suggest some real risk of flight.”
Court-appointed defense attorney Manuel Perez said de la Lima Vargas came to the United States 18 years ago, and had gone back to Jalisco, Mexico, for six of those years. He was self-employed, working construction with a friend, Perez said.
De la Lima Vargas was barely audible when agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial.
On Aug. 23, ICE lodged an immigration detainer on de la Lima Vargas, saying he is illegally residing in the United States. But the jail won’t accept ICE detainers without a criminal warrant issued by a magistrate judge, ICE officials say.
“Sanctuary policies not only provide a refuge for illegal aliens, but they also shield criminal aliens who prey on people in their own and other communities,” ICE said in a statement.
Advocates of Oregon’s 1987 sanctuary law accuse its detractors of seizing upon criminals in the country illegally to push their case for supporting a repeal of the sanctuary state law. Most immigrants are law-abiding, fill jobs that U.S. citizens often don’t want, and contribute to society, they say.
Those who support the 1987 law say if it is repealed, Latinos and others would be subjected to racial profiling by law enforcement, and that people in the country illegally would be reluctant to report crimes, fearing deportation.
Those who support repeal, including 16 of Oregon’s 36 sheriffs, say respect for the law is paramount.
Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers was among the majority of sheriffs who did not sign an open letter supporting repeal.
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