Enforcement Advocate: Kate’s Law Would Make Nebraska Tragedy Less Likely

Twice-deported drunk illegal immigrant kills passenger as bill targeting repeat deportees languishes in Senate

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 12 Jul 2017 at 2:12 PM

An illegal immigrant charged in the death of his passenger following a car crash last week had been removed from the United States on seven separate occasions, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The Mexican-born Nemias Garcia-Velasco, 32, was driving under the influence in Nebraska about 1 p.m. on July 5 while carrying two passengers in his vehicle. Garcia-Velasco was deported in 2009 and 2011 and carried out five “voluntary returns” to Mexico, the Omaha World-Herald reported Wednesday. The illegal immigrant also found himself in trouble when he was convicted for claiming that he held U.S. citizenship.

While speeding at over 100 mph, Garcia-Velasco crashed the car into a guardrail and a bridge abutment; the vehicle burst into flames and rolled upside down. A 58-year-old passenger not wearing a seat belt died at the scene, and a 16-year-old passenger was taken to a nearby hospital and later released.

"What a tragedy. It's a miracle more people weren't hurt. We shouldn't have to rely on miracles, though. This man should not have been able to enter the country illegally so many times. He should have faced more severe penalties when he was caught time after time, and he should not have been able to find a job here," Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), told LifeZette in an email.

The Omaha World-Herald reported that Garcia-Velasco had drunk 12 beers during the morning of the crash and the night before the crash. After being treated for severe burns at the Nebraska Medical Center, the illegal immigrant was thrown into jail and charged with motor vehicular homicide with a bail set at $2 million. Should he be convicted, Garcia-Velasco could serve 20 years in jail.

"It's appropriate that local authorities are detaining him on high bond in recognition that he is a danger to the public and a flight risk; clearly they've learned (the hard way) from Sarah Root's tragic case," Vaughan said, referring to the young woman killed in an Omaha car crash in Jan. 2016 by a drunk illegal immigrant from Honduras who later skipped bail.

Vaughan said that Garcia-Velasco's case is emblematic of the failed policies under former President Barack Obama's administration, which "de-prioritized" dealing with prior deportees.

Pointing to Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte's No Sanctuary for Criminals Act and Kate's Law, both of which passed the House with bipartisan support in late June, Vaughan said that should these bills pass through the Senate, they "would make this kind of tragedy less likely."

Kate's Law was named after Kate Steinle, a young woman who was murdered in San Francisco two years ago by a multiple deportee. The law seeks to increase the maximum penalties illegal immigrants face when caught repeatedly returning to the U.S. following a deportation. The Goodlatte no-sanctuary bill would further compel cities and jurisdictions to comply with federal immigration laws and ICE officers' detainer requests.

"These bills would help make sure that illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes get turned over to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and that in cases like this where someone is killed, that ICE has to detain them pending deportation," Vaughan said.

"The bills would also allow authorities to impose more severe consequences on repeat immigration scofflaws like the man who caused this tragedy," Vaughan added. "Experience has shown that these harsher consequences do deter people from coming back, and if they do come back, that they can be taken off the streets."

Both bills face an uphill battle in the Senate, where they require a supermajority of 60 votes to pass. With just 52 Republicans in the Senate, the GOP needs to convince eight Democratic senators to support them. When the Senate considered a failed version of Kate's Law last year, three Democrats joined their GOP colleagues in supporting it. This time around, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), indicated that she would considering joining the Republicans in voting for Kate's Law.

But the 24 House Democrats who joined their Republican colleagues in supporting the pieces of legislation faced intense backlash from liberal-progressive illegal immigrants' rights activists, which will most likely cause a significant deterrent to on-the-fence moderates in the Senate.

"But the best deterrent of all would be measures to crack down on employers who entice illegal immigration by continuing to hire illegal workers with impunity," Vaughan said. "The Trump administration and Congress urgently need to address that problem, too."

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