July 1, 2015
Arizona Republic
Laurie Roberts

Rep. Matt Salmon has introduced a bill that would bar federal authorities from releasing undocumented immigrants who have been accused or convicted of serious crimes.

And he wants them deported within 90 days.

The fact that we need legislation to accomplish this is astonishing.

But apparently we do.

Just ask Steve Ronnebeck. His 21-year-old son, Grant, was killed in January over a pack of cigarettes. Apolinar Altamirano – a convicted felon allowed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to walk the streets for TWO YEARS while awaiting deportation – now stands accused of Grant Ronnebeck's murder.

This didn't need to happen. It shouldn't have happened.

Altamirano had been arrested in August 2012 after a home invasion in which a woman said she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office allowed him to plead guilty to a low-level burglary. He was sentenced to two years' probation and in January 2013 was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Four days later, ICE released him on a $10,000 bond, to await his deportation hearing.

It didn't matter that he was a felon. It didn't matter that two orders of protection were filed against him, including one from a woman who said he's threatened to kill her and pointed a gun at her boyfriend.

But it mattered greatly to the Ronenbeck family. They just didn't know it until 4 a.m. on Jan. 22. Police say Altamirano walked into a Mesa QuikTrip, dumped a jar of change on the counter and demanded a pack of cigarettes. When Grant wasn't quick enough to comply, he was murdered. The gunman then stepped over Grant's body to grab two packs of cigarettes and left.

Grant Ronnebeck isn't the only victim of federal incompetence. Between 2010 and 2014, the Department of Homeland Security admits that 121 undocumented immigrants who committed crimes and were released while awaiting deportation went on to kill someone – or at least be charged with some form of homicide.

Altamirano makes 122.

The Obama administration has said deportation of criminals is its highest priority yet more than 66,000 convicted felons awaiting deportation were released by ICE in fiscal 2013 and 2014, according to DHS.

Meanwhile, the immigration courts are swamped. Arizona has the eighth largest backlog of pending deportation cases, with an average wait time of 695 days, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Grant Ronnebeck died on Day 749 of Altamirano's wait.

Steve Ronnebeck is hoping that the sacrifice of his son might prompt our leaders to finally do something.

Salmon's bill – Grant's law, he's calling it – would end the "catch and release" policy that allows the Altamiranos of the world to walk free and it would require deportation within 90 days.

Presumably it comes along with the hefty infusion of resources clearly needed for the court system.

But surely this is something that both Democrats and Republicans can agree that we need to do.

To figure out a way to hold serious criminals who weren't supposed to be here in the first place. To figure out a way to quickly deport them and then to keep them out.

Tragically, the only way to get Altamirano off the streets was over Grant Ronnebeck's dead body. How many more Grants must there be before our leaders fix this?

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