A reputed street gang leader accused of ordering that gunshots be fired near a playground, fatally wounding a 13-year-old girl, was living illegally in the U.S., prosecutors said Thursday.
Mwenda Murithi, a Kenyan native, came to the United States in 1999 on a student visa that has expired.
Prosecutors allege that Mwenda Murithi was a leader in the Imperial Gangsters and on the evening of June 25 he gave the order to shoot at a rival gang, killing 13-year-old Schanna Gayden, an innocent bystander.
Murithi, 26, was charged with first-degree murder along with the alleged gunman, Tony Serrano, 19.
The question at trial will be whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Murithi is guilty of that charge.
The question I have, though, is why Murithi was in the country at all that night.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement records show he emigrated from Kenya on a student visa at the end of 1999 to study civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville. That visa was valid as long as he continued his studies.
When he dropped out of U.W.-Platteville before the 2002-03 school year began, he was no longer legally in the United States. ICE, which now operates under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, formally terminated Murithi's visa Feb. 12, 2003, said Carl Rusnok, central-region spokesman for the immigration agency.
He became not just an uninvited guest in this country but a most unwelcome one: Chicago police records show Murithi was arrested 27 times from June 2003 until his arrest in connection with Schanna's slaying on a Northwest Side school playground.
The charges weren't horrible -- mostly possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, obstruction of traffic, drinking alcohol on a public way and other offenses commonly associated with the career of drug-dealing gang-bangers. Police said four of the charges were felonies; the Cook County state's attorney's office said Murithi had two misdemeanor convictions, one of which resulted in 30 days in jail this spring.
But still. It's disquieting that anyone with that kind of track record for trouble spent so little time behind bars. And it's outrageous that Murithi was still in the United States June 25, more than four years after he became an illegal immigrant and began racking up arrests.
There's a good debate about whether honest, hardworking immigrants should be allowed to stay if their only crime is related to their immigration status. But there's no debate, at least in my mind, when it comes to criminal illegal immigrants.
Murithi should have gone straight from jail this spring into federal detention and then back to Kenya.
"If he was charged and did time, how come ICE wasn't notified so they could detain him?" asked Brian Perryman, former head of the Chicago office of what is now ICE. "Why wasn't he taken into custody after he served his sentence? And if ICE wasn't notified, why not? That's a big mistake."
Not us! said the Chicago Police Department. "We don't ever ask about immigration status," said spokeswoman Monique Bond. "We leave that up to the courts."
Not us! said the Cook County state's attorney's office. "We don't check," said spokesman John Gorman. "That's for [ICE] to do. We're not involved."
Not us! said ICE. "Law enforcement agencies can contact our Law Enforcement Support Center for timely and accurate information" 24 hours a day, Rusnok said. If "the person who is being inquired about is subject to removal, [ICE] can place a detainer with the Police Department ordering the department to hold the person ... to allow ICE officials to take the person into custody and begin removal proceedings."
ICE has employees who screen cases for immigration violations at the Criminal Courts Building, but they are on duty only during business hours, Rusnok said. He said security regulations prevented him from saying how many agency employees there are to check the immigration status of all those charged or convicted of serious crimes in Cook County.
Not enough, though, clearly. Schanna Gayden paid for this joint abdication of responsibility with her life.
Next time the anti-violence protesters take to the streets, here's an extra chant for them to direct to the mayor, the state's attorney and immigration officials: