U.S. Immigration Laws Face New Scrutiny After Killings

Published on October 29th, 2014

Jennifer Medina and Julia Preston
October 28, 2014
The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — It would seem to be a worst case that opponents of the Obama administration on immigration had long forecast: An illegal immigrant — one who had been deported twice, yet returned to the country each time — is accused of killing two Northern California sheriff’s officers in a six-hour shooting rampage Friday.

The suspect led the authorities on a manhunt through two counties. After he was booked into the Sacramento County jail, federal immigration authorities used his fingerprints to identify the man, who gave his name as Marcelo Marquez: They said he was Luis Enrique Monroy Bracamonte, a Mexican who lived without papers in this country for more than a decade after he was deported in 1997 and again in 2001 because of drug- and weapon-related arrests.

“This case shows that our laws are not being enforced, and there are tragic consequences to not enforcing them,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a group that advocates tougher immigration controls.

The suspect is Luis Enrique Monroy Bracamonte.  Credit Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press
The case could create a new problem for the Obama administration, as officials weigh steps the president could take after the Nov. 4 elections to expand protections from deportation for immigrants here illegally.

Emerging details of the suspect’s history — he gave his second last name in court in Sacramento on Tuesday as Bracamontes, not Bracamonte — show that he crossed the southwest border at least twice in a wave of illegal immigration more than a decade ago, then used several aliases and stayed out of trouble just enough to elude detection as the Obama administration ramped up deportations in recent years and expanded systems to identify foreigners who committed crimes.

Under the name Marcelo Marquez, Mr. Monroy Bracamontes was arraigned Tuesday on 14 felony counts, including the murders of the two sheriff’s officers, theft of a sheriff’s vehicle and a shotgun, four carjackings and the attempted murders of three deputies and a civilian. The 13-page complaint, which the Sacramento judge read in its entirety, also lists special circumstances in the case against him, including killing an officer engaged in his duties and killing the officers to avoid arrest, which could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

His wife, Janelle Marquez Monroy, who was with him throughout the shooting rampage but was captured first, was charged with murder in the killing of one deputy, with prosecutors saying she was an accomplice, and she faces other charges. She is a United States citizen, immigration officials confirmed.

During a brief news conference after the arraignment, the Sacramento County district attorney, Jan Scully, said she would not discuss whether prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty. She said that investigators had not determined whether Mr. Monroy Bracamontes was affiliated with a gang or a drug cartel, but that they were holding him in maximum security as a precaution.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Mr. Monroy Bracamontes was deported for the first time in 1997 after he was convicted in Arizona of narcotics dealing. He was arrested again in Arizona in May 2001 on drug and weapons charges, but those were dismissed, and that month he was deported for a second time.

He was hardly an isolated example of a foreigner coming back to the United State illegally after deportation. From 2003 to 2013, about one-third of all deportations, 1.1 million, were based on reinstatements of court orders from previous deportations of the same immigrants, according to Marc R. Rosenblum, a researcher at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan group in Washington.

In 2013, 60 percent of all removals carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were of foreigners who had previously been deported, said Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that favors reduced immigration.

Sometime after his second deportation, Mr. Monroy Bracamontes returned to the United States and moved with his wife from Arizona to Utah, where officials said he lived at least until last year. To judge from Utah court records for Marcelo Marquez, he was an exceptionally bad driver, with 10 misdemeanor violations from 2003 to 2009.

But none of those violations were serious enough to create a fingerprint record in state databases. After May 2009, the traffic violations stopped. A federal program known as Secure Communities, which checks immigration records based on fingerprints of people booked into jails, started in Utah in March 2010.

Mr. Monroy Bracamontes did not make a secret of the fact that he was using several names. On Facebook, he created at least two pages under different aliases, and the two aliases were “friends” with each other.

“This is a very muddy investigation with multiple identities,” Sgt. Lisa Bowman, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento County sheriff, said Tuesday.

Two Sacramento County deputies approached Mr. Monroy Bracamontes and his wife on Friday as they sat in the car in front of a Motel 6 in a Sacramento neighborhood where business owners had complained about a series of thefts, drug dealing and other crimes, Sergeant Bowman said.

“They were just sitting in the car — not looking to go in or out anywhere — and that obviously raised a red flag in this area,” Sergeant Bowman said. “The officers simply just tried to approach them, and they just didn’t get that far. The shots came from within the car very quickly, and that’s what started everything.”

After killing the Sacramento deputy, Daniel Oliver, with a handgun, Mr. Monroy Bracamontes shot a motorist, Anthony Holmes, while trying to take his car, Sergeant Bowman said. Mr. Holmes is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds.

The couple then fled to Placer County, northeast of Sacramento. There, Mr. Monroy Bracamontes shot and killed a sheriff’s detective, Michael Davis, and wounded a third officer using an AR-15 assault rifle, according to the charges against him. The couple is also charged with attempting to murder two other Placer County deputies.

Immigration officials said the rapid identification of the suspect showed that federal programs now in place were effective.

“This is underscores why technology like Secure Communities is so important,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It relies on fingerprints, and it gives us a virtual presence in jails and prisons across the country.”

Last fall, California passed a law known as the Trust Act under which traffic violations that do not result in an arrest would not activate any alert to federal immigration authorities, said Kevin R. Johnson, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis.

“This is a tragic case that is already being used by advocates to argue against any kind of changes,” Mr. Johnson said. “But everyone agrees that this is the sort of person we should be focused on not having here.”

Jennifer Medina reported from Los Angeles, and Julia Preston from New York. Elisa Cho contributed reporting from New York, and A. G. Block from Sacramento.

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