Maureen Maloney, the mother of 23-year-old Matthew Denice, is understandably traumatized by her son's violent, preventable death last August. But instead of focusing on ways to prevent drunk driving, or get punishment handed down on Nicolas Dutan Guaman —the man who allegedly ran a stop sign, then hit Denice with his pickup truck, dragging the motorcyclist for a quarter of a mile, thereby killing him — Maloney wants to do something about illegal immigration; because Guaman is an illegal immigrant from Ecuador.
Two bills (S 2061 / H 3913) that would stiffen penalties for driving without a license, punish landlords who rent to undocumented residents, require drivers to present a Social Security number or tax ID number to register a vehicle, and would require the [Massachusetts Gov. Deval] Patrick administration to report on its efforts to join a federal program intended to identify and deport illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.
There's lots to untangle there — for example, deporting illegal immigrants who commit "serious" crimes (let's hope that just means violent, but it really never does) isn't the most objectionable idea. Driving without a license is potentially dangerous (anecdotal refutation: my unnamed friend drives really well because if the cops ever pulled him over they might notice he hasn't had a license in ten years! Incentives, etc.) so there's that fairly reasonable suggestion to punish (if not necessarily deport) people who drive without licenses. But what do either of those issues have to do with landlords who dare to rent to undocumented immigrants? And why should they be obligated to think about immigration status at all?
And what does the tragic death of Matthew Denice have to do with anything except Guaman running a stop-sign while driving drunk and the myriad other crimes with which he is charged?
But Maloney, as quoted by the Boston Herald, really does think her son's death has something to do with her state's lax enforcement of immigration laws:
"My son paid the ultimate price with his life because Massachusetts is a safe haven for illegal immigrants," Maloney told members of the Judiciary Committee. "The real question I ask is, Why would illegal immigrants not come to Massachusetts when we are so willing to provide them with jobs and free services they could not get in their native countries?"
Her loss is terrible, but it should have no relevance to whether Massachusetts passes this immigration law. The backers of the bill are stressing the increased penalties for unlicensed driving, but they also admit that the death of Denice is part of the motivation.
But equating Guaman's killer recklessness with proof that illegal immigrants are inherently dangerous is as foolish as Arizona passing their controversial "papers, please" bill in response to an illegal immigrant murdering someone. Which (to some extent) they did, noted Cato's Daniel Griswold in May 2010. He also wrote the the problem with illegal immigration crack-downs is that:
Absent real reforms, ramped up enforcement will only drive illegal workers deeper underground, raise smuggling fees, and divert law enforcement resources away from apprehending real criminals who truly do threaten public safely.
Authorities dropped the ball and if they had deported Guaman for his past criminal record, yes, Matthew Denice might still be alive. But cracking down on non-violent illegal immigrants isn't the way to fix this, nor is demanding more oversight and accountability from a clearly broken immigration system.
In Reason's June 2011 issue, contributor Michael Tracey noted that "Dead Kids Make Bad Laws" and former Reasonoid Radley Balko has often reported on the same, most notably in July, post-Casey Anthony-trial hysteria with his very sensible "Why Caylee's Law is a Bad Idea" response. Also check out Reason on illegal immigration, including Steve Chapman on how illegal immigrants aren't anything scary.