U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed on two occasions last year to detain and deport a 46-year-old illegal alien who is accused of slaughtering five strangers with an AK-47 in Kansas and Missouri earlier this week.
It was reported early Wednesday that the suspect in the killings, Pablo Serrano-Vitorino, slipped through ICE hands following a traffic arrest in September in Overland Park, Kan. ICE erroneously filed a request to detain the Mexican national — who had been deported in 2004 — with the Johnson Co., Kan. sheriff’s office. But that agency never had Serrano-Vitorino in its custody so he went free.
Egregious enough, it has since come to light that ICE was notified in June that Serrano-Vitorino had been arrested in Wyandotte, Co. for domestic battery.
An ICE spokeswoman said Wednesday that the agency “regrets the error,” which allowed Serrano-Vitorino to remain in the Kansas City area, where is accused of using an AK-47 to murder his neighbor and three of that man’s friends on Monday. He is also suspected of killing a New Florence, Mo. man in his home on Tuesday. (RELATED: Illegal Alien Released Due To Paperwork Mix-Up Allegedly Slaughters Five In Kansas And Missouri)
Jon Feere, a legal analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which supports strong enforcement of immigration laws, says that the Serrano-Vitorino case highlights the federal government’s failure to control the border. It also shows that internal enforcement of immigration laws is inadequate, he told The Daily Caller.
“Clearly our borders are wide open,” Feere said. “We don’t even know when this guy came in.”
The wife of Randy Nordman, the 49-year-old New Florence victim, slammed ICE for its failure.
“Who made this mistake?” Julie Nordman said of the “clerical” error that allowed Serrano-Vitorino to go free in September.
“If this mistake had not been made…would this tragedy have occurred?” she asked, adding: “We want answers.”
Serrano-Vitorino, who re-entered the U.S. at a date uncertain after his 2004 deportation, was placed on ICE’s radar after he was arrested in June in Wyandotte County, Kan. for misdemeanor domestic battery in an incident involving his brother.
The Wyandotte Co. Sheriff’s office filed an immigration alien query (IAQ) with ICE, according to KSHB. But the federal agency failed to respond within the four hours that it is allowed to respond to alien queries, and so the sheriff’s office let Serrano-Vitorino go free.
It is unclear why ICE failed to respond to the IAQ. KSHB noted that the ICE support center which handles IAQs is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
ICE’s spokeswoman, Gail Montenegro, did not respond to numerous requests for comment from TheDC.
Serrano-Vitorino, who was sentenced to prison in 2003 for making terroristic threats in Los Angeles, was also arrested in 2014 for a DUI in Coffee Co., Kan. But ICE told KMIZ news station that the sheriff’s department there never fingerprinted Serrano-Vitorino and was never notified that he was in custody.
The porousness of the southern border, which has become a major topic in the 2016 presidential race, makes internal enforcement all the more important, says CIS’s Feere. But that’s been hard to achieve given President Obama’s lax immigration policies, he told TheDC.
“Knowing that people are easily able to sneak across our border it is imperative that we have solid state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities,” said Feere.
“ICE needed to be more efficient and more quick to respond in cases like this.”
But achieving that goal “would require a more robust immigration enforcement scheme and greater support from President Obama himself.”
The Obama administration has softened its immigration enforcement policies. The Department of Homeland Security, ICE’s parent agency, has deprioritized deportation enforcement against illegal aliens who are not perceived as national security threats or suspected of felonies.
Illegal aliens arrested for DUIs or misdemeanor domestic battery charges are a low priority for deportation.
Feere also noted the lack of media coverage of the killings.
“If the suspect were a U.S. citizen using such a powerful gun to kill American citizens one might assume that it would get greater coverage than it currently is,” he said.
National news outlets like CNN and NBC News have covered the case, but the mainstream press has given the story relatively short shrift. The killings have certainly not received the same level of coverage as other mass shootings.