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Sanctuary Madness: Why Was a ‘Menace Behind the Wheel’ Allowed to Live and Drive Among Us?

IRLI investigation reveals missed opportunities, preventable deaths in Maryland


WASHINGTON—An investigation by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has found that an illegal alien, who was protected by sanctuary policies and later killed an FBI special agent and a state arson investigator with his car, was still driving after the incident and was recently cited for multiple charges including negligent driving and leaving the scene of an accident.


It is an all-too-familiar story of sanctuary policies resulting in a preventable loss of life. Roberto Antonio Garza Palacios, 30, a native of Guatemala, has been living illegally in the United States since overstaying and violating the terms of his work visa that expired in 2009. In December 2017 he was involved in a traffic fatality in Montgomery County, Md. FBI special agent Carlos Wolff and deputy state fire marshal Sander Cohen were struck and killed by Palacios’ vehicle on the shoulder of Interstate 270 near the Washington, D.C., beltway.


While he was not determined to have been driving while impaired, Palacios was cited for negligent driving and paid a fine of only $280. He was subsequently arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) but somehow managed to remain in the country.


IRLI has learned that after the deaths on I-270, Palacios faced a $30,000 bail that the judge in the case reduced to $15,000. The bail, legal fees and fine for Palacios were reportedly paid by CASA (formerly Casa de Maryland), an activist group that administers day-labor centers in the state and advocates for those in the country illegally.


IRLI’s investigation showed that instead of being deported or at least having his driving privileges revoked after the deaths of Wolff and Cohen, Palacios continued living in the United States and driving. Documents obtained by IRLI show that Palacios was cited in September of last year in Carroll County, Md., on four alleged violations including negligent driving, failure to obey traffic control devices, failure to drive on the right half of the roadway, and failure to remain at the scene of an accident.


After he was released by police in Carroll County, Palacios was arrested by ICE agents and is currently being held at the nearby Howard County Detention Center awaiting possible deportation.


Should have been deported years earlier

The tragedy is that Palacios should have been deported years earlier. In 2015 he was detained on evidence that he smashed 15 car windows at a construction site. ICE asked Montgomery County jail officials to hold Palacios for possible deportation. The request was not honored and Palacios was released. Incredibly, in 2019, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich expanded the county’s sanctuary policies shielding illegal aliens from deportation.


Last year, IRLI identified Montgomery County as one of the ten worst sanctuary communities in America. After formally declaring sanctuary policies last summer, the county experienced a spike in criminal activity. Police arrested more than ten illegal aliens for allegedly committing a spree of sexual assaults. The alleged offenses include the rape of an 11-year-old girl by two men, the molestation of a 12-year-old girl and her younger brother, the rape of a 16-year-old girl at knifepoint, and the rape of a six-year old.


After a firestorm of criticism against them following the summer crime surge, Montgomery County leaders have reportedly walked back the most onerous elements of their sanctuary policy. While ICE can now place detainers on criminal aliens and schedule pickup times at jails, ICE agents are still prohibited from entering some county-owned facilities including police stations.


But as county leaders are going one way on sanctuary policy, Maryland state lawmakers are going in the opposite direction. There are currently three sanctuary bills in committee in Annapolis. Among their many provisions, one would give immunity to government officials for refusing to provide information to the federal government on an individual’s immigration status. Another would require a judicial warrant to detain or to notify immigration officials about an alien’s location or release data, and prohibit law enforcement from asking about immigration status during a stop, search or arrest.


The requirement of a judicial warrant is popular among sanctuary communities, but is a cynical tactic to frustrate federal authorities. There is no provision in federal law authorizing such warrants for civil immigration enforcement. They do not exist, so it would not be possible for ICE to provide them in order to gain compliance.


“How many more families have to suffer?”

“While it appears Montgomery County was shamed into cutting back their sanctuary policy, the Maryland state government hasn’t learned anything from last summer,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Wherever sanctuary policies are in effect, there will inevitably be dangerous criminal aliens living among the immigrant population. That means a higher threat of violent crime against citizens, legal residents and illegal aliens.


“The fact that Palacios is still in the United States is bad enough; the fact that he was still driving is sickening,” Wilcox continued. “This is a classic case of illegal aliens being given more rights than American citizens. Palacios is a menace behind the wheel of a car, yet continued to drive in our country. He should have been deported in 2015, but instead was allowed to remain and two innocent people lost their lives. This is an appalling miscarriage of justice.”


Robert Green, director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, told The Washington Post that Palacios was released in 2015 at the direction of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.


IRLI’s investigation also discovered that Palacios has accumulated numerous alleged violations while in the United States, including drug possession, malicious burning, two incidents of driving while intoxicated, and destruction of private property.


“It is incomprehensible and unacceptable that Maryland’s sanctuary policies continue to protect illegal criminals, which in effect destroys the lives of U.S. citizens,” said Marla Wolff, wife of slain FBI special agent Carlos Wolff and mother of their two young children. “Had Montgomery County honored ICE’s detainer request, Palacios would have never been on the road to kill Carlos and Sander. This is a nightmare that we now have to live with. How many more families have to suffer unnecessarily because of politicians who put in place reckless laws? And now politicians want to make all of Maryland a sanctuary state; this is an outrage.”


For additional information, contact:

Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

IRLI is a supporting organization of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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