A 29-year-old illegal alien who is accused of rape and murder in a July 24 hammer attack avoided deportation twice in the past 15 months.
First, in May 2014, because a local sheriff’s department declined to honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detainer request and again July 16 after ICE determined that the Mexican national was no longer a priority for deportation under the Obama administration’s new immigration policies.
Victor Aureliano Hernandez Ramirez and an accomplice, Jose Fernando Villagomez, allegedly broke into the Santa Maria home of Marilyn Pharis on the early morning of July 24. Pharis, 64, was bludgeoned with a hammer and sexually assaulted. She died eight days after the attack, prompting murder charges against Ramirez. He is being held on $1 million bond.
But Ramirez’s mere presence in the U.S. raises questions given that last month’s brutal attack wasn’t his first act of violence. Nor was it his first time in law enforcement custody. He’s been arrested several times for battery, drugs and for violating probation.
Ramirez was incarcerated by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for a May 22, 2014 battery charge against a woman. At that time, ICE placed a detainer request asking the sheriff’s office to be notified of Ramirez’s release so that the agency could take custody to explore whether to deport him. But records show that Ramirez was released by local authorities a week after without ICE having ever received notification regarding the detainer.
Ramirez was rearrested July 16 of this year on an unrelated charge. But by then, ICE had changed its outlook towards Ramirez. The agency declined to issue a detainer at that time because Ramirez’s case history showed he had no prior deportations or felony criminal convictions.
So what explains ICE’s change of heart on filing a detainer for Ramirez?
The culprit seems to be President Obama’s new immigration enforcement priority policies. In November, he announced that his administration would focus only on deporting illegal aliens deemed to be violent criminal felons and national security threats. The new schedule put a low priority on illegal aliens who committed misdemeanors, even those that involved violent acts.
The case is similar to several others that have received national attention of late, including the July 1 murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco. The difference in the Ramirez case is that it shows the failure of immigration policy at both the local and federal level.
In Steinle’s case, local policies were to blame for her killer, Juan Lopez-Sanchez, for still being in the U.S. Lopez-Sanchez is an illegal alien from Mexico who had been deported five times. He was in the custody of the San Francisco sheriff’s department in April. At that time ICE placed a detainer request for him. But the sheriff’s department ignored the request because the city is a sanctuary city.
ICE directly blamed the city and the sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, for Lopez-Sanchez’s release.
In the Ramirez case, ICE released a statement to The Daily Caller:
“Given the seriousness of the allegations associated with this individual’s arrest, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is monitoring the case closely and has lodged a formal request with the custodial law enforcement agency seeking notification in advance of his release or transfer from local custody.”
Santa Maria police chief Ralph Martin had strong words for the Obama administration and others he says are to blame for policies that allowed Ramirez to remain in the U.S.
“I think this is a national issue – it starts with administration and their policies,” Martin said after Pharis’ attack. “You can draw a direct line to this governor and Legislature.”
“I am not remiss to say that from Washington DC to Sacramento, there is a blood trail to Marilyn Pharis’ bedroom,” he added.