It's been more than two years since Jesse Benavides was gunned down at a family birthday party in Dallas by a man who never should have been on U.S. streets.
Santana Gaona had been in jail less than two months earlier for allegedly raping and beating his estranged wife. He was flagged as an illegal immigrant and scheduled for deportation. Despite a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "detainer" that had been placed on Gaona, requiring him to face a deportation hearing, ICE officials canceled the order and he was released from jail.
At the time, ICE officials told the Dallas Morning News and this reporter that "another law enforcement agency" asked them to remove the detainer.
In 2011, a federal law enforcement officer confirmed to this reporter that Gaona had been an informant for multiple federal agencies, including the FBI, which was responsible for his release. The official said Gaona showed no signs of being a violent criminal and there was no reason to believe he would have committed murder.
Benavides, 33, was trying to stop a fight between Gaona and Gaona's estranged wife when he was shot in front of his 8-year-old son.
Benavides' family still can't find closure. They told TheBlaze that they are filing an official complaint with the FBI and a looking at a possible lawsuit. They don't want his death to be in vain, and don't want any other family to suffer a similar tragedy. As lawmakers in Washington push for comprehensive immigration reform, the family wonders why the laws already in place weren't followed and why criminal illegal aliens like Gaona are released and not deported.
"I still can't go a day or minute without thinking of my brother Jesse," Juan Benavidas said. "Jesse isn't the only person whose been killed unnecessarily by criminals like Gaona, who shouldn't be here to begin with. Where's the FBI now? Why haven't they ever said anything to our family - since it was their guy who killed my brother. Why wasn't he deported when he was arrested the first time?"
Juan Benavidas' question is not easily answered. Victims and law enforcement officers often feel left out of the immigration reform process, their voices silenced.
Federal law enforcement officers have told TheBlaze that the Obama administration has made it impossible for them to do their jobs and that special pro-immigration interest groups have more pull with the White House. Deportation is not simple and ICE officers rarely, if ever, deport those who have not committed crimes beyond their illegal entry into the United States.
A picture of Jesse and Juan Benavides when they were in elementary school. "There isn't a day I don't think of my brother," Juan Benavides said. "I don't want his death to be in vain." (Photo courtesy of Benavides family)
"We've been kept away from rallies where illegal aliens are protesting U.S. laws -- we're not allowed to make arrests, deport criminals and the system is made to work against us," said a Department of Homeland Security official not authorized to speak publicly. "What happened to Jesse is a terrible crime but it happens every day because we are kept from doing our jobs to protect our citizens. Criminals seem to have more rights."
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass immigration reform, and the issue is a central part of what he hopes his second-term legacy will be.
Obama said "the unwillingness of certain Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country" on immigration reform is what's preventing the passage of legislation. But many in the GOP leadership have also been working diligently behind the scenes to piece together legislation that can be voted on next year to remedy the complex problem of what to do with the more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
In fact, Obama congratulated House Speaker John Boehner for his pursuit of piecemeal immigration legislation and said during a speech last week in San Francisco that he believes "the speaker is sincere."
Those who oppose a comprehensive immigration reform package, however, say victims like Jesse Benavides are set aside by the political machine that places more emphasis on building a voter base than on fixing a broken immigration system and enforcing existing laws.
Chris Crane, president of the ICE National Council, the union that represents more than 7,500 officers and support staff, told TheBlaze that the officers he represents are afraid of their own agency.
"The toughest thing for our guys is releasing felons, these child molesters and knowing these bad guys are back in the streets," Crane said. "It's the policy of this administration to make it as difficult as possible for our law enforcement officers to do their job. If the American public could see what we see, they would be out in the streets demanding enforcement and change, not immigration reform."
There was little Jesse Benavides loved more than playing with his children. A close second may have been the practical jokes he would play on those he loved. He was a devoted Dallas Mavericks fan and loved to watch the team shoot hoops on his 55-inch LED flatscreen television -- which he told his fiancee Matilda Hernandez he bought as her Mother's Day present.
"How could I be mad at him -- he was so funny," Hernandez said. "Jesse didn't need to die."
She said her oldest child "is still going through therapy. He was really affected by Jesse's death. For him, Jesse was his best friend. He was the father figure in the house."
And Micah, Jesse Benavides' son, now 10, is haunted by the memory of watching his father die the night of the party on the front lawn.
Juan Benavides says he is also struggling to understand his brother's death and why the "federal government whose only real job is to protect the citizens of this country."
"I'm sure that this is not a weekly or daily thing, but there is negligence on the part of our government for not enforcing their own laws," he said. "These illegal immigrants need to be incarcerated or deported -- he took an 8-year-old child's father. Who's going to explain to Micah what happened and why? This is a huge weight and it still doesn't make sense to him. I'd like to see something that's public that will require a higher level of responsibility when it comes to informants and illegal immigrants. At work I'd be fired for this level of irresponsibility -- it's baffling to me."
The FBI is not talking. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told TheBlaze that as a matter of longstanding policy, the "FBI does not discuss sources and we wouldn't comment to any part of this due to possible pending litigation."
ICE officers and Border Patrol agents say that many times, people like Gaona -- even those who are not informants or those arrested on lesser offenses -- are either released from jail back into the United States or never prosecuted to begin with.
A Border Patrol agent from Texas, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, "We let guys like this go all time because like ICE, we have our hands tied. Even if he was an informant, this guy was a bad apple to begin with and should have been deported. But how many bad guys are out there on our streets because the administration has failed to deport them?"
As of Oct. 26, more than 21,000 inmates were serving time in federal prisons on immigration-related offenses out of a total 211,195 inmates, Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke told TheBlaze.
Burke said the number does not include illegal aliens incarcerated in federal prisons who've committed crimes other than immigration violations, "so the actual number is higher and this number does not include those incarcerated by the state."
It is difficult to access the number of illegal aliens being held in state prisons who have committed crimes because there is no requirement to report them as illegals, and as such, there is no actual tally on the nationwide number, a U.S. official told TheBlaze.
Juan Benavides said he tried contacting the FBI and ICE to get answers "but it was like dead space."
"There were decisions being made and there was interaction between agencies but they wouldn't share that information with the family and they still have not shared anything with us," he said.