WASHINGTON – It was 3 a.m. on May 14, 2014, when Mary Ann Mendoza got the call that would change her life.
Her son, Mesa Police Sgt. Brandon Mendoza, had been hit on his way home from work by a wrong-way driver who was high on crystal methamphetamine and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit.
“I kept trying to call his cell phone and he didn’t answer,” Mendoza said Tuesday. “Fifteen minutes later, the Mesa Police Department showed up and took me to the hospital. My son died about 40 minutes after I arrived at the hospital.”
The driver was an undocumented immigrant who had been previously arrested on other criminal charges, but released.
The events of that day – Mother’s Day – would ultimately bring Mendoza to Washington this week to unveil Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime. The new group aims to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, and advocate for an aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration.
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Critics say they understand the pain crime victims go through, but that groups like Mendoza’s – and the Department of Homeland Security’s new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office – unfairly stigmatize all immigrants for the actions of a criminal few.
But Mendoza said critics can’t understand.
“My family is forever separated. I will never see my son again,” Mendoza, the group’s co-founder, said. “These (undocumented) families have a choice to make a phone call, to visit them, to have Skype, to have emails, to do all of those things that I’m no longer able to do with my son.”
Mendoza, who visited the White House for a roundtable Wednesday with President Donald Trump, is no stranger to advocacy. She has spoken at a number of then-candidate Trump’s campaign rallies, was a prime-time speaker at the Republican National Convention and was on hand at the White House in January as the president signed executive orders clamping down on immigration policy.
Her new group’s mission statement says its “goal is to promote Americans’ safeness and security in legislation and public policy” and “educate the public on the statistics and impact that illegal immigration has on American lives.”
At the organization’s launch Tuesday, members called for construction of a border wall, defunding sanctuary cities and the revocation of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program, which provides to protections to certain immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.
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“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for these people, the conscious decision was made to break the law and the consequences are there,” Mendoza said of the estimated 11 million immigrants in this country illegally.
But Petra Falcon, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Promise Arizona, said Wednesday that while she is deeply saddened for the victims, “blaming an entire community” is unfair.
“You’ve got to understand that there is a pain there, a loss, and there are a lot of emotions connected to that – anger, rage,” she said of survivors. “But I also don’t think it’s fair to broad-stroke the fault of one person who committed a crime and hold everybody hostage to that profile.”
The founding of Mendoza’s group comes two months after Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office as part of Immigration Customs Enforcement. VOICE is supposed to help crime victims gather public information on suspects who may be undocumented immigrants.
Mendoza was on for the April announcement of the office, which she praised. But it was quickly condemned by immigration advocates who said it would further criminalize and stereotype immigrant communities.
“They feel the solution is, ‘People are here from another country, they shouldn’t be here,’ but the solution is comprehensive immigration reform,” Falcon said. “We should all work toward that because we all want that.”
Falcon said everyone agrees that people who do harm, “wherever they are from,” should not be permitted to live in the country without consequences.
But Mendoza said there’s no way to have a proper immigration system in the United States with what she calls open borders.
“A lot of those people may have come here peacefully and may not have committed previous crimes, but, look, Americans are being killed every day,” Mendoza said.
“I think the American people need to start being more concerned about what’s happening to their fellow Americans and stop worrying so much about what’s happening to illegal aliens coming into our country,” she said.