Victims of immigrant crime now have advocate in White House

Trump to create a new agency: Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement

By Astrid Galvan
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) - Two years ago, Steve Ronnebeck's son was gunned down at work in a Phoenix-area convenience store over a pack of cigarettes. The man accused of pulling the trigger was an immigrant who was in the country illegally and had been released by federal authorities.

The suspected killer, captured on camera calmly stepping over the body of 21-year-old Grant Ronnebeck to grab a few more packs, faced deportation but was free on bond.

Ronnebeck and other families who have lost loved ones to crimes committed by immigrants now have a forceful advocate at the highest level with President Donald Trump in the White House. During his speech to Congress on Tuesday, Trump announced that he would create a new office to serve victims of immigrant crime and their relatives.

Although immigrants are responsible for only a small fraction of the crimes committed daily around the country, the issue played an outsized role in the race for the White House. Trump repeatedly invoked such crimes at rallies and frequently appeared with victims on the campaign trail, pointing to case after case in which people were killed by immigrant assailants who slipped through the cracks.

Many of the families have doggedly pressed for changes in the immigration system for years, lobbying lawmakers in Washington and even disrupting congressional hearings to make their point.

The man charged in Grant Ronnebeck's slaying has pleaded not guilty to murder, armed robbery and other charges. Adolfo Altamirano is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 18 in Maricopa County.

Trump's new agency will be the office of Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, and will be part of the Department of Homeland Security. Department Secretary John Kelly described the agency's planned work in a memo last month.

Under President Barack Obama, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency protected information about immigration cases from public inspection, including from victims. It also created a public advocate position in 2012 that helped immigrants facing deportation and answered complaints or offered explanations about the agency's work.

Opponents criticized the administration for using government money to advocate for immigrants in the country illegally.

Don Rosenberg said an office like VOICE would have been useful when he was trying to navigate the judicial system after an immigrant named Roberto Galo killed his 25-year-old son, Drew, in a car collision after striking the law student's motorcycle in San Francisco in late 2010.

Rosenberg struggled to keep track of hearings and did not know what his rights were as the father of a victim.

Galo did not have a driver's license and was in the country illegally, although he had temporary protected status, meaning he was shielded from deportation. He was sentenced to six months in jail but was let out after 43 days, Rosenberg said.

He was eventually deported to Honduras.

Rosenberg became vocal against policies protecting immigrants. He was detained by U.S. Capitol police in July 2015 after getting into an argument with another man at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the Obama administration's approach to immigration. Rosenberg said he got loud but not violent while arguing with a man. He was not charged.

Several studies have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born U.S. citizens. A 2014 study published in the journal Justice Quarterly concluded that immigrants "exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course."

Published: Mon, Mar 06, 2017

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