Franklin Platero-Rodriguez, charged with murder in a brutal gang-related slaying, is not just another illegal immigrant accused of committing a terrible crime.
He is an illegal immigrant who has been living in the United States because of a federal policy that gives special protections to illegal immigrant children who come to the U.S. border. Under federal law and policy, the U.S. government places those children with sponsors in the United States.
So-called unaccompanied minors from Central America started arriving at the southwest border in the summer of 2014. Since then, more than 170,000 such youths have been apprehended at the border.
A variety of factors prevent an easy return of those youths to their home countries. While they await a determination of their status in immigration courts — often for years — they live with relatives or other sponsors in the United States.
Some end up joining gangs — or were gang members when they arrived.
In Platero-Rodriguez’s case, according to a story this week in The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, law enforcement authorities alleged that he killed a man north of Houston earlier this year and then poured gasoline on a car and burned it with the victim’s body stuffed in the trunk.
Platero-Rodriguez then fled the state in a stolen Ford F-150 pickup truck, finally surrendering to law enforcement officials Tuesday outside a Subway sandwich shop in South Carolina’s Berkeley County.
Platero-Rodriguez was wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of a dog and the words “Pitbull … dangerous” when sheriff’s deputies arrested him as he was leaving the restaurant. They found a 9 mm pistol on him.
“Platero-Rodriguez is a dangerous MS-13 gang member,” Sheriff Duane Lewis said, according to The Post and Courier.
The newspaper reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents also were looking for Platero-Rodriguez on a 2014 charge of failing to appear at a court hearing.
While killings by unaccompanied minors are unusual, missed court dates are not. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said earlier this week at a roundtable event on Long Island that about 6,000 of the youths released in the United States each year fail to appear for their court hearings. He added that less than 4 percent of the unaccompanied minors have been deported.
A court settlement that President Bill Clinton’s administration signed prohibits the government from detaining illegal immigrant children for longer than 72 hours in most cases. As a result, immigration authorities turn over the youths to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which has responsibility for finding temporary homes for them.
The Trump administration wants changes to the law that would allow ICE to hold youths longer and make it easier to return them to their home countries.
“Lawmakers who refuse to enact these desperately needed, common-sense reforms to our immigration system are engaged in a dangerous dereliction of duty that puts the well-being of vicious illegal alien gang members ahead of the safety and security of Americans.”
“President Trump has repeatedly called on Congress to close the reckless ‘catch-and-release’ loopholes in our immigration law that have allowed hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to roam free in the United States,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told LifeZette in a statement.
“Lawmakers who refuse to enact these desperately needed, common-sense reforms to our immigration system are engaged in a dangerous dereliction of duty that puts the well-being of vicious illegal alien gang members ahead of the safety and security of Americans,” Gidley said.
Immigration officials try to screen youths for gang ties, but critics contend that process cannot possibly prevent gang members from entering the country.
“It’s extremely far from foolproof,” said Joseph Kolb, executive director of the Southwest Gang Information Center, noting the Texas slaying. “It’s amazing it doesn’t happen more often.”
Kolb said the Office of Refugee Resettlement does a poor job of following up to make sure that the youths they place in America appear for their immigration court hearings or even stay in the homes they are placed. The follow-up, Kolb said, is “abysmal — I would say it’s nonexistent.”
Based on reporting by the Associated Press and Kolb’s own research, he estimated that about 70 percent of the sponsors who take charge of the immigrant children are themselves living in America without legal authorization.
Kolb said the ORR, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has never responded to his inquiries about how many sponsors have been held accountable for failing to make sure their charges live up to their responsibilities.
“These sponsors need to be held responsible,” he said. “I think these people should have ICE knocking on their doors.”