The disturbing case of Tomas Martinez-Maldonado is reigniting the conversation over one of the most dominant issues of the recent campaign season: immigration and border security.
It was on September 27, 2016, that the 38-year-old man, a Mexican national, allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl on a Greyhound bus in Kansas — a crime for which he has since been arrested and jailed.
What makes Martinez-Maldonado's case exceedingly noteworthy, though, is the Associated Press's discovery that the undocumented immigrant has, since 2003, been kicked out of the U.S. no fewer than 19 times.
Ten of those times, he was formally deported, and nine other times, he was “voluntarily removed” from the country.
For reference, the Center for Immigration Studies notes that “voluntary removal” is “not really 'voluntary',” but is “where the alien requests to be returned home in lieu of removal proceedings.”
An accounting of Martinez-Maldonado's immigration record — per the AP's investigation — includes:
- Eight voluntary removals before 2010
- First deportation in 2010, followed by another voluntary removal that year
- Five deportations between 2011 and 2013
- Misdemeanor conviction in 2013 and 2015 for entering without legal permission, for which he spent 60 and 165 days behind bars, respectively
- Two deportations in 2014
- Two deportations in 2015, with the last occurring in October
It would be less than a year later that, back in the U.S., Martinez-Maldonado would allegedly rape his 13-year-old victim.
Following the revelation of Martinez-Maldonado's deportation record, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) have demanded that the Department of Homeland Security be held accountable in the “extremely disturbing case.”
In a blunt letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson from December, the senators wrote:
In order for Congress to better understand the circumstances that led to this alleged rape of a child, we request information about Martinez-Maldonado’s criminal and immigration history, and why he was able to enter and remain in the country despite his unlawful status.
For some Americans, the case is clear-cut evidence why the country needs the more stringent immigration enforcement that has been called for by President-elect Donald Trump:
But according to immigration attorney David Trevino — who is representing Martinez-Maldonado — a stronger border wall would do little to prevent people like his client from re-entering the U.S. He told AP:
"[President-elect Donald Trump] can build a wall 100 feet high and 50 feet deep, but it is not going to keep family members separated.
So if someone is deported and they have family members here...they will find a way back — whether it is through the air, under a wall, through the coast of the United States."
While it's been argued that statements such as these are likely to “only magnify the anger on the Capitol Hill,” The Chicago Tribune notes that immigration violations already dominate the federal prosecution system:
Nationwide, 52 percent of all federal prosecutions in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 were for entry or re-entry without legal permission and similar immigration violations, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
As for Martinez-Maldonado, the accused rapist will face a pre-trial status hearing on January 10th. Afterwards, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has requested that the 38-year-old be turned over to ICE custody.
In terms of public opinion, it's not hard to see how an egregious case such as this could easily garner more support for tougher immigration policies — calls like those PEOTUS Trump made a hallmark of his presidential campaign.