Immigration officials mum on Ramon Hernandez case
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How can someone who’s apparently in the country illegally manage to stay in the US with at least three drunken driving convictions on his record?
That question has yet to be answered as another angle in the story surrounding Ramon Hernandez emerges.
Hernandez is sitting in jail in San Miguel County, charged with drunken driving in an accident back in June that caused the death of the unborn child of Aileen Smith, who was seven months pregnant with a boy she and her husband had already named Dimitri.Hernandez has entered a plea of not guilty and his attorney insists the 43-year-old laborer from Honduras was not driving the vehicle that hit the Smith’s SUV.
But regardless of the plea, it’s been learned the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has placed a “detainer hold” on Hernandez, indicating his immigration status is in question.
But even if Hernandez entered the country legally, he has racked up at least three (and maybe four) DWI convictions during his time in the US.
How did he manage to avoid deportation? And if he had been deported in the past, how did he end up back in the country? And, as reports have indicated, produce a Social Security number? Did ICE have prior holds on Hernandez or is this the first time he’s finally been identified as being in the country illegally?
Good questions, but the Letitia Zamarripa at the ICE field office in El Paso in charge of cases in New Mexico and West Texas has not returned numerous phone calls and e-mails from Capitol Report New Mexico asking about the Hernandez arrest.
Hernandez’ attorney, Ben Andrew Mondragon, told Capitol Report New Mexico, “I’m not an immigration lawyer so you should keep that in mind, but it is my understanding that immigrants can be deported for causes of moral turpitude and I believe that a DWI is not a crime of moral turpitude that calls for automatic [expulsion from the country].”
Mondragon said that Hernandez has been in the US for “about 15 years.”
“Every district [in New Mexico] operates a little different,” one prosecutor who preferred not to have his name used told Capitol Report New Mexico, adding, “There’s no real uniformity across the state when it comes to detention.”
“This is a very sad case and it’s even sadder to say, I hear of these every week in every state,” said Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, based in Washington DC that advocates for strict enforcement of immigration laws. “When the only criteria for an illegal alien to be removed – or even processed – is a violent criminal history, the system is rigged to release the overwhelming majority of illegal aliens back onto the streets. This tragedy did not have to happen had the law been followed.”
After losing her unborn child, Aileen Smith of Colorado Springs has posted an online petition calling on New Mexico to toughen its laws regarding repeat drunk drivers. We asked her if the revelation that Hernandez is apparently in the country illegally increases her anger, but Smith replied by e-mail, “NO, because DWI affect everyone regardless oftheir immigration status, sex, color, religious background. It is an epidemic that needs to be treated.”
Hernandez has been sitting in the San Miguel County Detention Facility since the June 11 accident and it looks like he’ll be sitting there for a while.
In addition to the ICE detainer hold, Hernandez has been unable to post $25,000 bond.
His pretrial hearing isn’t set until Jan. 28 of next year and absent a plea agreement, a full-scale trial isn’t expected to begin until the end of February or March.
“He would obviously like to get out of jail and be with his family,” said attorney Mondragon, who says he can produce a witness who can attest that Hernandez was not driving the vehicle. “My client was stuck in the seat belt,” on the passenger side of the vehicle after the accident, Mondragon said.
*May 2000: Hernandez pleaded guilty to DWI in Santa Fe Magistrate Court, was sentenced to fines and DWI school but court records say he did not complete the program
*May 2003: Motor Vehicle Departmet records show Hernandez again convicted of DWI
*New Year’s Day, 2004: Hernadez was charged with another DWI but the incident was recorded as a second offense, not a third offense. Convicted in Magistrate Court and sentenced to 364 days in jail (all but four days, however, were suspended), Hernandez got three years of unsupervised probation and was ordered to perform 48 hours of community service, attend alcohol screening, have an ignition interlock installed in his vehicle and pay a $500 fine and $215 in court costs. But when the case was resloved, Hernanded got credit for $453 in unpaid fines after serving 11 days in jail. “So DWI No. 3 got him less than two weeks behind bars,” a recent editorial in the Journal remarked.
In addition to all that, the Journal reported Hernandez had his license suspended in 2009 for an open container violation in Sandoval County and was ordered to pay a $75 fine. He was fined $85 for a seat belt violation in 2011. Neither fine has been paid, according to MVD records.
Here’s coverage of the accident scene from KRQE-TV, including dashboard camera video the includes a snippet of the conversation Hernandez had with police: http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/crime/repeat-dwi-driver-denied-role-in-fatal
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Aileen Smith, Albuquerque Journal, Ben Andrew Mondragon, Capitol Report New Mexico, Federation for American Immigration Reform, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, KRQE-TV, Ramon Hernandez