In the title to her article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, by Mara H. Gottfried
asks: Would immigration status questions have stopped fatal St. Paul crash?. The answer is yes - if we deported all illegal to their countries of origin or points of entry. All of the following situations described by Gattfrined were "100% Preventable" if the illegals had not been in the United States:
If witness accounts are true about Carlos Viveros-Colorado's speed before he struck and killed a girl outside a St. Paul high school, it wouldn't be the first time he'd been driving fast.
In the year leading up to the accident that killed Clarisse Grime, 16, near Harding High School this month, police stopped Viveros-Colorado three times, citing him for speeding and not having a Minnesota driver's license.
Viveros-Colorado, who turns 51 on Sunday, July 22, is in the U.S. illegally for the second time. He was undocumented when convicted of DWI in 2001 and left the country, but he returned about two years later.
Now, some question how three law enforcement agencies handled Viveros-Colorado's traffic stops in the past year: Should they have suspected him of being an illegal immigrant and done more than give him citations?
Yoseph Yimam, Grime's stepfather, wishes they had.
"They should have to find out whether he's illegal or not and have taken action on him before he killed my daughter," Yimam said.
But he also said he doesn't know how officials should do that or how he, as an immigrant himself, would feel about being questioned about his right to be in the country. Yimam and his family are from Ethiopia and said they came to the U.S. legally.
As much as Grime's family would have wanted to prevent the accident, others say immigration status does not predict future criminal behavior.
Perhaps Viveros-Colorado was a problematic driver, as evidenced by his past speeding and DWI convictions, said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota, but that's not connected to his being in the country illegally, he said.
"For every guy like this, how many guys are there who are of Norwegian heritage who are drinking and driving, or texting and driving?" Samuelson asked.
Some of these questions about illegal immigration came up in 2008, when Olga Franco drove through a stop sign near rural Cottonwood, Minn., and killed four children on a school bus. The Guatemalan national, who was in the country illegally, was convicted of four counts of criminal vehicular homicide and other charges.
The lesson that should have arisen from the Franco case was to enforce immigration laws, said Ruthie Hendrycks, president of Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform.
"Unfortunately, that lesson falls on deaf ears for those in upper management of law enforcement and city administration," she said. "One must wonder what it will take for our voices to be heard, to end the pandering and to have such unnecessary and preventable tragedies addressed."
Local police departments say it's not their job to determine whether someone is an illegal immigrant and that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn't have the resources to take every case.
ICE asks local police departments to contact it if they suspect someone they've encountered is violating immigration laws, said Shawn Neudauer, spokesman for the agency.
"With limited resources, ICE must prioritize those resources on the following cases: criminal aliens, recent border crossers, previously removed aliens, and fugitive aliens," he said.
When law enforcement officers in Minnesota make a traffic stop and query police databases, they don't get information about an individual's immigration status, said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. That information could come up if ICE has issued a warrant for the person's arrest or the person is booked into jail.
HURTLED 50 FEET
Grime died July 5, waiting with her boyfriend for a city bus outside Harding on the city's East Side.
Viveros-Colorado struck a fire hydrant, careened across a street, hit a "no parking" sign, and headed down a small embankment by the high school sign. Sitting under a tree about 50 feet from the curb, Grime was struck and killed by Viveros-Colorado's SUV, according to a complaint charging him with criminal vehicular homicide. The charge alleges he was driving in a grossly negligent manner, something his attorney disputes, saying what happened was "provoked by a medical event."
Viveros-Colorado told police his leg and arm went numb while he was driving. He couldn't lift his leg to step on the brake, panicked and accidentally hit the gas, leading him to hit the hydrant and lose control of his vehicle, said Alberto Miera, Viveros-Colorado's attorney.
Miera said his client's driving record isn't a bad one. "I would think, if you looked at most people's driving record in the last 10 years, two speeding tickets in total would be pretty minimal," he said.
Driving without a license is a common problem for illegal immigrants, Miera said. Viveros-Colorado tried to be responsible by carrying car insurance and not driving more than necessary, he said.
"The date of this incident, as I suspect in the other (times he was ticketed), he was not joyriding or partying," Miera said. "He was coming from work, meeting his responsibilities."
Viveros-Colorado knows there will be consequences for the crash, his attorney said.
"All we can do is continue to express our sincere sorrow, sadness and just have the expectation that ultimately people judge things fairly and put them in perspective because these are real human beings on all sides of this issue," Miera said.
After the accident, Viveros-Colorado's sister told police that he is undocumented and in the country illegally. Viveros-Colorado remains in the Ramsey County Jail. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed an immigration detainer on Viveros-Colorado. If released from local custody, he would be released to the immigration agency.
When Viveros-Colorado was convicted in 2001 of DWI, the federal agency then known as Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered him to leave the country and he did so, Miera said. Viveros-Colorado returned to the U.S. to work and support his family, his attorney said.
NO IMMIGRATION CHECK
Court records show St. Paul police cited Viveros-Colorado at 3:55 p.m. July 19, 2011, for driving without a valid license and speeding 1 to 10 mph over the limit at Seventh Street and Johnson Parkway. Newport police and the Minnesota State Patrol have also cited him in the past year.
St. Paul and Minneapolis have ordinances that bar city employees from asking about someone's immigration status, "except when immigration status is an element of the crime" or when enforcing federal law on document fraud.
Stopping someone for a traffic violation would not be a reason to ask about the driver's immigration status under the St. Paul ordinance, said City Attorney Sara Grewing.
If officers inquire about immigration status, it undermines residents' trust in police, making them less likely to report being a victim or witness, said Bill Martinez, assistant St. Paul police chief.
When the St. Paul ordinance passed in 2004, council member Dan Bostrom cast the lone opposing vote. "Maybe a situation like this begs us to review that (ordinance)," he said Tuesday.
"We have a responsibility to protect our citizens," Bostrom said. "One of our citizens was killed in a situation like this, and that is a tragedy. That is totally unacceptable."
Martinez demurred. "What happened is gut-wrenching to any parent," he said. "I don't know if other action had been taken what could have happened, but I don't want to get into that 'what if' game because it's not realistic."
People who oppose policies like those in St. Paul and Minneapolis call them "sanctuary cities."
"Quite frankly, I would like to see those pushing and enforcing sanctuary policy publicly, for all to witness, explain to the parents of Clarisse Grime, an only child, why immigration laws are not enforced in Minnesota and instead we reward illegal behavior with a pass," said Hendrycks, the Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform president.
2 STOPS, NO WARRANT
At 3:50 a.m. March 8, a Newport police officer driving on U.S. 61 near 70th Street looked up the license plate of a vehicle in front of him and saw that the registered owner had no Minnesota driver's license, according to a police report.
He stopped the vehicle, identifying the driver as Viveros-Colorado through his Mexican identification card, the report said. He cited him for driving without a valid Minnesota driver's license and allowed him to call for a driver with a license to bring the vehicle home, the report said.
There must have been no warrant from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for his arrest, or the officer wouldn't have let him go, said Newport Police Chief Curt Montgomery.
People stopped by police use all kinds of identification and having ID from another country shouldn't lead officers to conclude a person is in the country illegally, Montgomery said.
At 8:45 a.m. April 19, a state trooper pulled Viveros-Colorado over on U.S. 61 at Lower Afton Road. He was cited then for driving without a valid license and speeding. A court record said he was travelling 71 mph in a 60-mph zone.
No law or policy directs a trooper to verify the immigration status of a person during a routine traffic stop, said Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon.
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has sponsored a bill in the Minnesota Legislature largely patterned after Arizona's tough immigration law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the provision in that law that requires state law enforcement officials to determine immigration status of anyone they stop if they have reason to suspect the person might be an illegal immigrant. Drazkowski said he anticipates authoring a similar bill again.
State Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, doesn't support a "show your papers" approach. The former St. Paul police chief, who represents the area where Grime was killed, said, "Immigrant enforcement is a federal law enforcement responsibility, and I believe that's where the responsibility is."
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, a retired Lake Crystal police chief, has a different view. He says local officers should investigate a person's immigration status if there are red flags. But not having a driver's license and speaking a different language should not be enough to trigger those questions, Cornish said.
"That wouldn't be much on its own, and you couldn't go just on that, because that would smell of profiling," he said. "But when there are other factors -- nervousness, no permanent address, can't answer certain questions -- and the cop's collective experience leads him to believe there's something going on, he should be able to ask more questions."
Bruce Nestor, a Minneapolis immigration and criminal defense attorney, said he can think of about a dozen clients in the past year whom police booked into jail for the misdemeanor offense of not having a driver's license. Once they were in jail, ICE became aware of them and started removal proceedings, Nestor said.
For misdemeanor offenses in Minnesota, state law says officers can cite and release people, as long as the officer can establish someone's identity and doesn't believe they pose a threat to public safety, Nestor said. What officers accept as proof of identification depends on the department and sometimes the officer, he said.
Nestor said officers who book someone into jail on a misdemeanor might do it as a backhanded way to turn someone over to ICE.
The victim's stepfather said he is less concerned about Viveros-Colorado's immigration status and more troubled by what he calls the driver's excuses after hitting and killing his daughter.
"I'm angry that he says he has numbness," Yimam said. "I don't accept it. If you have numbness, why are you driving the car?"
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