Joel Ortiz was arrested in April in connection with the shooting at the Raleigh restaurant and was under investigation by local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But when there was not enough evidence to support a felony conviction, according to prosecutors, a plea bargain was reached with Ortiz and the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Although a misdemeanor-assault charge is a deportable offense, according to immigration attorney Lynn Calder, immigration officials said that because the charge was reduced, the case became a low priority.
"If they got something more serious going on at the time, I don't think they'll get to them," Calder said.
That procedure, referred to as a detainer, is now under way for Ortiz after he was arrested last Thursday in a series of incidents in which he allegedly chased down motorists, rammed their vehicles and shot at them. He is currently in jail under $407,000 bond.
But Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said on Monday that he had hoped immigration agents would have taken a serious look at Ortiz's immigration status after the first arrest in April.
"Anytime someone is in this country illegally and gets arrested for a felony with a firearm, it ought to get reviewed by ICE," Willoughby said.
Willoughby, the police, as well as many other people, have said they realize and understand how overwhelmed immigration agents are. For example, the local immigration office covers 31 counties.
The enormous amount of work, in part, has prompted state lawmakers to take a tougher stance on illegal immigration. On Monday evening, they unanimously passed a resolution to pushing for an immigration court in North Carolina, which is one of three states under consideration for the court.
North Carolina's illegal-immigrant population is estimated at about 300,000 and is the eighth largest in the United States. Currently, the closest immigration court is in Atlanta.
The resolution also urges the U.S. Congress to make a driving-while-impaired conviction a cause for deportation, and it calls for the expansion of Homeland Security to give local law-enforcement officers the authority to identify people who have previously been deported.
Elon University poll
released in April shows that 71 percent of North Carolinians believe illegal immigration is an important issue, but those who responded are split as to whether it has helped the state.
Of the 677 participants, 44 percent said illegal immigration has been bad for North Carolina, while 43 percent said it has been good or has not made much difference.
Participants were asked their opinions about a variety of statements to determine what makes immigration an important issue to them. More than 70 percent agreed that providing school, health care and similar services for illegal immigrants costs too much and 72 percent said such immigrants do not pay their fair share of taxes.
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