NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - It's been more than seven years since Scott Gardner, a father of two, was hit and killed by a drunk driver, who was an illegal immigrant.
Authorities say Ramiro Gallegos was drunk when he hit and killed Gardner on Highway 130 in Brunswick County. He was with his family, on their way to Sunset Beach, when a drunk driver crashed into Gardner's car.
His kids weren't seriously injured in the crash, but his wife, Tina Gardner, still remains in a vegetative state.
Many have not forgotten about the Gardners, including Rep. Mike McIntyre. Just last week, McIntyre reintroduced a bill to Congress that immediately deports illegal immigrants who drive drunk.
There seems to be strong feelings on both sides of the debate.
"This is just hate legislation," said immigration lawyer Helen Jugovich.
Jugovich said the act is unfair and piggybacks on current laws and policies.
"We already have a system," said Jugovich. "This new one is taking any discretion out of the hands of the people who should have it."
Jugovich also expressed concerns of racial profiling from the bill.
The "Scott Gardner Act," also known as H.R. 3808, is giving a voice to the Gardners through McIntyre.
The following is the written statement from Congressman McIntyre's testimony about the Act:
Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member Lofgren, members of the Subcommittee, I am honored and privileged to have the opportunity to testify before you today about the "Scott Gardner Act," H.R. 3808. I would also like to thank my good friend and colleague, Congresswoman Sue Myrick, for inviting me to speak on this very important bill, which strengthens our national immigration laws and preserves our public safety.
I have been an original co-sponsor of the "Scott Gardner Act" since Congresswoman Myrick first introduced this legislation in 2005 in response to a tragic accident which took place in my congressional district. On July 16, 2005, 33-year-old husband and father, Scott Gardner, was driving to the beach in Brunswick County, NC, with his wife Tina, and their two young children in tow. Their summer vacation was over almost before it began when their car was struck head on by a drunk driver. Only a few hours after being airlifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Scott lost his life and his wife remained in critical condition. She would linger in a vegetative state for years. His children, though suffering only minor physical injuries, were robbed of their father for the rest of their lives.
The drunk driver was a repeat offender and an illegal immigrant, an individual who should never have been in this country in the first place. He had five prior arrests, all DWI's, and one of those times, his blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit, a transgression which earned him only 30 days in jail.
Mr. Chairman, there is no greater evidence that our immigration system is broken than when an illegal alien, who is a repeat offender and who has earned himself a felony for all intents and purposes, is able to not only remain in our country, but to continue committing the crime for which he has earned a felony.
The Scott Gardner Act would ensure that DWI is grounds for mandatory detention and deportation of illegal aliens. Specifically, if a state or local law enforcement officer apprehends an individual for driving under the influence, the officer shall use a federal database to verify the legality of the individual's status within the country. If it is determined that the individual is within the country illegally, the officer is authorized to detain or transport the alien to federal custody whereby he or she shall be removed from the United States. The bill would also improve communications between Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies, and it would allow those agencies and law enforcement to collect immigration information in the course of their normal duties.
The tragedy that the Gardner family experienced was completely preventable, but our broken borders allowed an illegal immigrant with five prior drunk driving charges to not only remain in the United States, but to continue driving and going about his normal business. I thank Congresswoman Myrick for her leadership in reintroducing this bill, and I look forward to working toward its passage. We must make serious changes within our immigration system now so that we never lose another life to a criminal who doesn't deserve rightfully to be in our country.
The Act was reintroduced for the fourth consecutive time in the 112th Congress on April 8, 2011. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a legislative hearing. The next step will be a markup of the bill in committee. A date for the markup had not been set at the time of this post.
Jugovich said not only would the bill cost thousands or even millions of dollars, but it would require resources that our government simply doesn't have.
She called the bill dated, and she's not alone.
"I believe this bill is redundant," said immigration lawyer Jeff Widdison.
"It's trying to start something thats already started."
McIntyre claims the death of Scott Gardner was unfair and even preventable.
Widdison said a recently revamped system has since addressed those problems and this new bill would include one too many illegal immigrants. He said it casts too big of a net because if passed, this bill would mandate U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to take into custody anyone who is merely "apprehended" for a DUI charged while unlawfully present in the U.S.
New Hanover County assistant district attorney Doug Carricker says that the DA's office supports any reasonable measure to get impaired drivers off the road.
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