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The End of the Road For Raymundo

One man's adventures in America

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Somehow, somewhere, Raymundo Espinoza Pineda earned the money he spent to fill up his gas tank and get drunk last Friday. Police records show that Pineda, who was in this country illegally, has been hanging around the Charlotte area since at least June 2004, when he was last charged with drunk driving. Logic tells us that Pineda had to eat while he was here, which means that he had to work while he was here. That in turn means that some lucky business owner likely got cheap, illegal labor out of Pineda without paying the full bill for it, without dealing with minor nuisances like social security, Medicaid and unemployment taxes or fair employment laws.

Two weeks ago, Jasmine Lawrence, 21, paid the rest of that bill with her life when Pineda's SUV plowed into her car on Independence Boulevard. Pineda, 21, was charged with hit-and-run, death by vehicle and driving while impaired in the deadly four-car pileup he caused.

US citizens drive drunk and kill people, too, but that's not the point. Pineda shouldn't have been driving drunk on Independence because he shouldn't have been in this country, a place whose laws he clearly had no regard for.

Pineda was first arrested in March of 1999 by the Arizona border patrol, which sent him back to Mexico, customs enforcement officials say. In the five years that followed, the president of this country and some in Congress were so lax about immigration enforcement and border protection that at times it almost seemed that they were deliberately undermining national security in an effort to help business owners profit from flouting tax laws. Thanks to their efforts, Pineda was eventually able to cross the border. So did approximately 88,000 non-Mexican aliens, up from a mere 22,000 in 2002. But I digress.

Since the year President Bush took office, worksite raids to round up illegal workers have nearly ground to a halt, falling from 17,500 a year to just 451 today. So Pineda and his employers didn't have much to worry about there, either.

Then there was the time Pineda was caught driving the wrong way down a two-lane street and another incident in June when he landed in jail after being arrested on drunk driving charges.

No one called customs officials, Sheriff Jim Pendergraph told WBT radio last week, because the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can't put a detainer on an illegal alien unless they are charged with an aggravated felony, which Pineda wasn't.

An ICE spokesperson says that that's not the case, and that the sheriff's department should inform them about any known illegal alien arrested on any type of charge. But there's a catch. Since there are only about 380 beds for each state in the union and ICE has a docket of a million suspected illegal residents, all but the most violent offenders — and even some of them — are turned back out on the street after they serve their sentences and ordered to show up for a deportation hearing. That's likely what would have happened to Pineda.

ICE official Victor Cerda told a Senate committee last month that only a third of those ordered to show up for detention hearings actually do, and that 85 percent of those ordered to leave the country never do. Ultimately, there was no point in the sheriff's department even bothering to check into Pineda's legal status or reporting it to ICE.

In fact, it is not entirely clear why ICE exists at all, aside from occasionally deporting a few gang members in high-profile roundups who will be back over the border in 30 days anyway. When you consider that the agency of 6,000 can't find 465,000 immigration absconders, you've got to wonder why we bother to fill out paperwork on them or push them through the system in the first place.

Since the president's budget calls for only 210 new border patrol agents out of the 2,000 the Intelligence Reform Act authorized and 1,900 additional detention beds out of the 8,000 requested, things aren't likely to change too much while Pineda's in jail.

If he's found guilty this time, Pineda will be back on the streets after he serves his sentence.

Meanwhile, county and state taxpayers will get stuck with the bill for his incarceration and medical care, just like they got stuck with the bill for $7 million in Medicaid costs for illegal aliens last year in Mecklenburg County. That's on top of the extra costs of providing financial aid to American citizens who are showing up in unprecedented numbers at our county social services department because of the increasing competition for low-wage jobs. And Lawrence's life? That's what they refer to in Washington as "collateral damage."

Only those who profited from Pineda's labor will come out of this mess in the black.

After all, what's really important here is that business owners who cheat the government — and, ultimately, their illegal workers — are able to pay for that new spa, ATV or trip to Aruba with all the money they saved, right?

Surely there's a better way.

Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com.

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