“Two years ago this week, my 16-year-old daughter, Tessa, and her best friend Allison were killed as they were sitting at in intersection waiting for a red light to change,” Ray Tranchant said, as friends placed a photograph of Tessa Tranchant on an easel behind him.
Since his daughter’s death, Tranchant, a professor from VIrginia Beach, has become an advocate for the enforcement of immigration law.
On Thursday, as Tranchant applauded local law enforcement in Virginia for its increased efforts to work with federal immigration authorities since his daughter’s death, he referred to individuals listed on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s database of illegal aliens with criminal backgrounds as “banditos.”
That comment drew a rebuff from Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).
“Mr. Tranchant, can I share with you as the father of two daughters, I thank you for bringing your testimony here, but I suggest to you that if we refer to people as banditos, as you referred to them in your testimony, it does not help to solve the problem,” Gutierrez said.
Witnesses on the first panel were called to testify about ICE’s ACCESS program, the 287(g) law passed by Congress in 1996 that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to voluntarily sign up for training to enforce federal immigration law in their jurisdictions.
Some on the subcommittee charged that the law has led to widespread racial profiling and other abuses.
Antonia Ramirez, a community activist from Frederick, Maryland, said that even though he and many of his fellow Hispanics are citizens, they are often the victims of discrimination. He said illegal aliens often refuse to report crimes and even suffer abuse because they fear their families will be separated by deportation.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he was surprised by the contrast of the witnesses’ testimony.
“I think I’m seeing the embodiment of a great big problem we have in this country and the result of it is the loss of lives, the loss of innocent human lives,” King said. “And I listen to professor Tranchant’s testimony. You have to know that he’s here to tell you today that if we had enforced local immigration law, his daughter would still be alive. Tessa and Ali would still be alive. And that’s true for hundreds, perhaps thousands of Americans who go about their lives every day, seeking to make the world a better place.”
Rep. King said the testimony by Ramirez and Mora seemed designed to persuade lawmakers that enforcing immigration laws is not a good policy.
“The message I get from you is that we shouldn’t enforce local immigration law because there are some examples of discrimination,” King said. “I don’t argue that it never happens. But I ask you, can you look at this on balance? Can you see the difference between the plea that you have made to this committee and the plea that Mr. Tranchant has made to this committee? Can you look him in the eye and say we should pass everybody over?”
“The comparison to what looks like an inconvenience to either one of you compared to the very sacred life of this man’s daughter,” King said.
Tranchant, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Ireland, told the committee he was shocked to learn the facts about the man who killed his daughter when the man was tried for vehicular manslaughter.
“I heard at the trial that Alfredo Ramos should have been and could have been deported long before he killed my daughter,” Tranchant said. “In fact, this wasn’t the first time he’d been involved in this kind of an incident. It wasn’t even the second time. Ramos had been arrested twice before.”
“Instead of being deported to his home country, he stayed on the streets of Virginia Beach to drink, drive, and kill these two beautiful girls in a way that showed wanton disrespect for the laws of our land,” he said.
But Rep. Gutierrez said he thought the committee was “missing the point.”
“I think we’re missing the point of the testimony here this morning and just so we have it very clear, no one ever has debated, promoted law that does not deport drunks, that does not deport rapists and murderers,” Gutierrez said. “Part of the problem is, it’s been said here by some of my colleagues on the other side -- enforce the law.”
“This Congress and the government of the United States has not shown the political will nor committed the requisite resources to enforce the immigration law,” he said. “The only way to really do that is to have comprehensive immigration reform. You either sweep millions and millions of people off the streets of the United States of America, which no one is going to propose. So it’s always a little disingenuous to me when people say only enforce the law.”
“What I have seen, unfortunately, is the will to target and to victimize and to scapegoat a community of people,” Gutierrez said. “I have seen that readily here. It makes for great political points but it doesn’t solve the problem and would not have saved your daughter’s life."
Gutierrez said anti-immigrant sentiment is not new in this country.
“The Irish [were] the dirty, filthy element that was coming here to undermine America. Well, it gave us a President Kennedy,” he said.
Rep. Gutierrez recently embarked on a five-week tour, visiting 16 American cities, to “document the harm” caused by the lack of “comprehensive immigration reform.” As part of his Family Unity Immigration Outreach Tour, Gutierrez held community meetings for U.S. citizens whose families are at risk of “being torn apart by a broken immigration system.”
Gutierrez’ critics, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, say he is “promoting amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and the dismantling of immigration law enforcement programs.”