Democrat Lawmakers: Americans Killed by Drunk-Driving Illegal Aliens Doesn’t Justify Law to Check Legal Status

Penny Starr | March 9, 2012 | 6:16pm EST
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Rep.Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) sponsored the Scott Gardner Act after a college student was run over in her state by an illegal alien who was driving drunk. Myrick testified at a House hearing on the bill on March 8, 2012. (

( – Despite testimony from a man whose brother was killed by an illegal alien who was driving drunk and had five previous DWI arrests, Democrats spoke out against legislation that would allow arresting officers to check the legal status of  aliens and transfer confirmed illegal immigrants into federal custody.

Wednesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement focused on the Scott Gardner Act, sponsored by Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), who testified on the first panel.

The bill is named after a University of North Carolina student, Scott Gardner, who was run over by Jorge Humberto Hernandez-Soto, an illegal alien who was driving drunk and who had been returned to Mexico 17 times before he killed the young college student, according to a 2005 article about the incident in the Charlotte Observer.

“By directing state officers to treat people differently based upon their perceived alienage, the bill would essentially become a national version of the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws, inviting widespread racial profiling and discrimination in violation of the Constitution,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the ranking Democratic member, said at Wednesday’s hearing.

In support of her argument, Lofgren cited a Supreme Court ruling against a provision of the Brady Act, which required state officers to perform a federal background check on prospective gun buyers.

Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), testified on March 8, 2012, that he opposes the Scott Gardner Act because it would be a burden on state and local law enforcement personnel and was 'probably unconstitutional.' ( Starr)

In the Gardner legislation (HR 3808), the inquiry about legal status takes place after the individual has been arrested for driving while intoxicated and the arresting officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe the that individual is an alien. If the individual is determined to be in the country illegally, they would be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), who also testified on the first panel at the hearing, argued that drunk driving was already covered when state and local law enforcement agencies are taking part in the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program, which allows them to check an arrested individual’s legal status using a federal database.

“H.R. 3808 can’t help with deportations for drunk driving because ICE already considers DUI a high priority offense,” Gonzalez said in his opening remarks.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, testified on March 8, 2012 at a House hearing about the need for a law to identify and deport illegal aliens who are arrested for driving under the influence. ( Starr)

In a related case, however, Brian McCann’s deceased brother, Dennis McCann, lived in Cook County, a jurisdiction where officials have said they will not cooperate with federal authorities on immigration matters. In fact, Saul Chavez, the man who killed Dennis McCann in a drunk-driving incident, had five prior drunk-driving arrests was either jailed briefly or released, including when he was released on bail before he could be tried in court for Dennis McCann’s death.

Chavez’s whereabouts are still unknown, according to authorities.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, testified at the hearing that the Scott Gardner legislation was essential to fill a “very serious gap in immigration law enforcement that enables a particularly dangerous set of individuals to remain in our communities in defiance of our laws.”

In a blog on Jan. 2012, Vaughan wrote about the “ill-conceived ordinance” that required the sheriff of Cook County (which includes Chicago) to ignore ICE’s request to hold criminal aliens to allow the federal agency to start the deportation process.

Vaughan said that over the “last few months” more than 100 criminal illegal aliens had been released back into the community in Cook County, including Chavez, who was released from jail in November after his brother posted 10 percent of his $250,000 bail. Chavez has not been seen since then.

Myrick testified at the hearing that since 2006, 11,494 illegal aliens have been arrested in Mecklenburg County, which is in her district. Among those arrests, 2,789, or 24 percent,  were from driving drunk.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, said on March 8, 2012, that she opposed legislation that would allow state and local law enforcement officers to check the legal status of individuals who are arrested for drunk driving. ( Starr)

“It’s a big problem and it’s only getting bigger,” Myrick said.

The bill was re-introduced by Myrick in January and it remains in committee.

“How many people must die before illegal immigrant drunk drivers are detained and removed?” Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee said at the hearing. “Why is it that they are not a priority for our administration?

“Congress has no choice but to act since the administration apparently is not going to,” Gallegly said. “Rep. Myrick’s bill solves the problem and ensures that illegal immigrants who drink and drive are detained and processed by ICE.”

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