Earlier this month, retiring U.S. Congressman Elton Gallegly (R- CA) expressed support in a written statement for the Scott Gardner Act, H.R. 1459, which if passed into Federal law would require the arrest and deportation of any illegal immigrant convicted of drinking and driving. The bill was recently re-introduced by Congresswoman, Sue Myrick (R-NC) and Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC).
The controversial bill is named after Mount Holly, North Carolina teacher, Scott Gardner who was killed in 2005 by a twice-convicted drunk driver who was in the country illegally. The accident also left Gardner’s wife in a persistent vegetative state. The driver, Ramiro Gallegos was indicted on second degree murder charges as well as DWI.
A Long Record for Gallegos
Gallegos had a long record of charges and convictions nation-wide, as detailed in an excellent piece of reporting from the Charlotte Observer.
He originally obtained his drivers license in Michigan in 2000, having crossed over from Mexico to Arizona in 1998, according to immigration officials. Only two weeks after receiving his Michigan license he was flagged for DUI, and deported to Mexico.
Six months later he was picked up by the border patrol in New Mexico and again deported.By March of 2001, Gallegos was back in Michigan by the spring of 2001, where he plead guilty to his drunk driving charge.
He later moved to North Carolina where he was worked as a roofer. He brought mayhem along to the Carolinas as well. Pulled over again for speeding in 2002, he was tested at twice the legal blood alcohol limit and arrested for DWI.
Three weeks later he was arrested again for a second DWI following a head-on collision. After serving 20 days in jail, Gallegos blew off a court date. No arrest warrant was filed.
Without a conviction and with no reporting from other states) Gallegos’ North Carolina driving record appeared unblemished in late 2002 when he was pulled over by police yet again and found to be so inebriated that he could not perform field sobriety tests. With no indication of prior convictions, Gallegos’ sentence was a seven day jail stint.
In 2004 Gallegos was stopped yet again by police for DWI. This time Gallegos received 30 days in jail as well as supervised probation, a medical assessment and 90 hours of alcohol abuse classes.
That was Gallegos’ last brush with the law before his devastating accident with Scot Gardner and his family.
A Problem, But a Problematic Bill
This is the third presentation of the Gardner bill before congress. Previous attempts at its passage were detailed in part due to charges that the bill’s provisions (such as running federal immigration checks on any DUI offender that an officers has “reasonable grounds to believe” is a foreign national) were invitations to racial profiling as well as potentially unconstitutional — see Printz v. United States.
What seems clear though is that there were tremendous law enforcement failures in the Gallegos case. Whether or not these failures were directly related to Gallegos’ immigration status seems to be a different story altogether. If anything, Gallegos’ history shows how ineffectual deportation can be, absent other significant law enforcement changes.
According to the Charlotte Observer report, approximately 27% of DUI cases against Hispanics in North Carolina are dismissed because the defendants fail to appear – quadruple the rate of white or black defendants. With 100s of new DUI cases filed ever month, most of these are never followed-up on, even though prosecutors have the ability to re-open the cases if suspects are found.
Surely, attaching a Federal immigration enforcement mandate to overtaxed state law enforcement would do more to push undocumented immigrants away from the judicial process, producing he potential for more terrible scenarios involving recidivist DWI offenders, like the horror that was visited upon the Gardner family.