Friday, May 21, 2004 -- Opinion: EDITORIAL: System failure -- Opinion: EDITORIAL: System failure

Friday, May 21, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

EDITORIAL: System failure

Felony DUI suspect should have been deported long ago

The attorney for Nicolas Serrano-Villagrana will contend the illegal alien -- held in lieu of $500,000 bail on charges he jumped a curb with his truck and crashed into a bus stop on Eastern Avenue near U.S. Highway 95 back on May 3, killing a 4-year-old boy -- is wrongly charged because someone else was driving.

Prosecutors says nine witnesses will testify Serrano-Villagrana was the driver; a jury will eventually decide.

But leaving aside the defense, the most serious question arising from Serrano-Villagrana's arrest is how an illegal alien (even his attorney says he's illegal) could have been busted in this valley on two previous occasions over a period of years for driving under the influence -- and still be on the streets of Las Vegas on May 3.

Is little Angel Avendano dead because nothing is done to drunken drivers; nothing is done to illegal aliens even when they're caught; and -- worst of all -- nothing is done to illegal aliens who are convicted of driving drunk?

And the answer appears to be -- correct on all three.

Technically, anyone arrested -- even for as supposedly "minor" a crime as drunken driving -- should be asked at the jail for place of birth, and also fingerprinted. If the suspect admits he was born outside the country and can't prove he's here legally, or if the fingerprints show he's lying about who he is, the federal Immigration police are supposed to be called, "and arrange for him to leave the country either voluntarily or under an order of deportation," says a knowledgable local immigration attorney.

But Serrano-Villagrana's attorney says his client was never deported. Although local police will call INS to take custody of illegal aliens who are charged with felonies, "I've never had one held for INS -- I've never had Immigration called on one of my clients -- for a misdemeanor," no matter what "official policy" is supposed to be, says Serrano-Villagrana's attorney, Philip Singer.

Anyway, when Serrano-Villagrana was arrested for DUI the second time -- processed through the North Las Vegas jail, convicted and fined -- why wasn't he turned over to federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement (formerly INS) and deported?

And can't something be done either to make deportation a more lasting punishment than the proverbial "revolving door" or to come up with some more effective way to get repeat drunken drivers off the roads -- at least repeat drunken drivers who also turn out to be illegal aliens?

Yes, if he's convicted Nicolas Serrano-Villagrana will do jail time, now. At which point he'll be deported.

Try telling little Angel Avendano and his parents that means everything is OK.


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