On Nov. 16, 2010, an unlicensed driver named Roberto Galo took a left turn at Harrison and 16th streets and hit motorcyclist Drew Rosenberg. After Galo backed over Rosenberg's body, the law-school student died. A jury convicted Galo for manslaughter and driving without a license. After serving 43 days in jail, he was released on home detention.
Don Rosenberg of Westlake Village - in Los Angeles County - blames San Francisco politics for his son's death. He also fears that the like-minded Obama administration will shield unlicensed drivers to the detriment of public safety - and Washington isn't giving him reason to believe otherwise.
This sanctuary city has been so eager to protect illegal immigrants who cannot obtain California drivers' licenses that in 2009, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that the city no longer would impound the cars of unlicensed drivers automatically. In 2008, the AAA Foundation for Public Safety reported that 29 percent of fatal car crashes in California involved a driver without a valid license. No worries, San Francisco sent a message to folks who haven't even passed a driver's test: You can drive here and get away with it.
Accidents happen, but Rosenberg doesn't see this crash as an accident - Galo, after all, backed over Rosenberg's son.
You can't blame California's law that denies driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. As a legal immigrant given temporary protective status, Galo was eligible for a driver's license. But he didn't have one and he drove anyway. That decision demonstrated a reckless disregard for the safety of others and disrespect for the law.
Repeated disrespect. Five months earlier, police stopped Galo for driving the wrong way on a one-way street and driving without a license. He paid a $220 fine. Then-Police Chief George Gascon - now the district attorney - supported the Newsom plan. He even told me at the time that it would help legal residents who couldn't afford to get a license or driver training. Does he still support it? No answer from his office.
The Public Defender's Office, which represented Galo, did not wish to discuss the case.
The next question is whether Galo, having been convicted of two misdemeanors, can remain in the United States legally. While immigration officials have not responded to my queries, aides to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, told me that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told them Galo was guilty of only one crime of moral turpitude - which suggests that he can stay.
Thursday ICE released a statement that said Galo is here lawfully and it "is investigating the options related to his status in light of his criminal convictions.
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, of Los Angeles stated: "We believe that driving offenses should not be a reason enough on their own to merit deportation. What would we do to a U.S. citizen who does such a crime? We would require them to pay, we would send them to jail or have them lose their license. We don't deport them."
"He should be treated like any other driver."
Jessica Vaughan of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies told me, "What makes this particular case disconcerting is that authorities seemed willing to overlook this serious violation in order to protect someone from deportation who has killed someone." Will Washington follow San Francisco's example?
If so, thank groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles who have sold the idea that driving without a license is not a big deal. Spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera told me, "We don't believe that most traffic offenses should be deportable."
Cabrera feels sorry for the Rosenbergs. But: "Does deportation, exile, bring back the person's son?"
Deportation, however, might prevent the death of someone else's son.
As Rosenberg noted, San Francisco's message to unlicensed drivers is that they can drive, kill somebody and serve only 43 days in jail. The Obama administration, however, could send the message that when immigrants seeking permanent legal status flout the law and drive without a license, and they kill somebody, they will be deported.
The only reason not to send that message: You care more about people who break the law than the law-abiding general public.
- Email Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Debra J. Saunders and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.