|For Immediate Release
March 7, 2012
Contact: Jessica Baker, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement
Hearing on: H.R. 3808, the Scott Gardner Act
Chairman Smith: Drunk driving is a national tragedy. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, someone dies in the U.S. in a car crash that involves alcohol an average of every 48 minutes. In 2009, alcohol-impaired car crashes accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drunk drivers drive intoxicated 80 times before their first arrest.
The CDC also found that the annual cost to the nation due to alcohol related crashes totals more than $51 billion dollars. These costs include lost productivity, medical costs, legal and court costs, emergency service costs, insurance administration costs, travel delay, property damage and workplace losses.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 requires the federal government to detain aliens who are deportable on the basis of having committed aggravated felonies.
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides that a crime of violence for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year is considered an aggravated felony.
The Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that drunk driving is “an inherently reckless act which exacts a high societal toll in the forms of death, injury and property damage.”
However, the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that a criminal conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol absent a malicious mental state is not a crime of violence for immigration purposes. Therefore, current law does not require Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain illegal immigrants who have committed drunk driving offenses.
Illegal immigrants who drive drunk should be detained until they have been removed so they can’t endanger more American lives. Unfortunately, ICE often fails to detain illegal immigrants who drive drunk.
The Washington Post reported that ICE believes that two drunk driving incidents are not enough to warrant detention. This policy drives our country on a dangerous road and puts American lives at risk.
Representative Sue Myrick has introduced the "Scott Gardner Act," named after a North Carolina man who was killed in a July 2005 drunk driving accident that involved an illegal immigrant who had numerous previous drunk driving convictions. Representative Myrick’s bill mandates that ICE detain illegal immigrant drunk drivers.
This legislation also requires state and local law enforcement officials to check with federal databases to determine whether a drunk driver is an illegal immigrant.
If North Carolina authorities had done this in the case of illegal immigrant Ramiro Gallegos, they could have detained him after one of his five previous DUI incidents. Scott Gardner would still be alive and the tragic accident, which also left Gardner's wife Emily in a vegetative state, could have been prevented.
Sadly, similar tragedies have occurred across the country. In August 2010, Carlos Martinelly-Montano, an illegal immigrant with several prior DWI charges, struck and killed a nun in Virginia while driving under the influence.
North Carolina resident Leanna Newman and her unborn child were killed in a wreck caused by an illegal immigrant who admitted to drinking before getting behind the wheel.
In California, Sara Cole was paralyzed when she was hit by an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk and had previous convictions for DWI.
These are just a few of the many instances where drunk illegal immigrants have injured or killed Americans behind the wheel.
Representative Myrick's legislation also provides state and local law enforcement authorities with the resources necessary to transport aliens to ICE custody.
I support this bill as it protects public safety and ensures that Americans are not injured and killed by illegal immigrant drunk drivers.