WASHINGTON – An illegal immigrant awaiting a deportation ruling has been charged with killing a nun and critically injuring two others in a drunken-driving crash that has sparked criticism of how immigration enforcement is handled.

An official in the Virginia suburb where the crash occurred and a congressman from another state have criticized federal officials for not removing the suspect from the country after previous arrests, and even Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asked why his deportation was taking so long.

A spokeswoman for the nuns’ order, meanwhile, said they’re upset that the tragedy is being politicized.

Carlos Martinelly Montano, 23, who police say is illegally in the country, is charged with drunken driving, involuntary manslaughter and felony driving on a revoked license after the accident Sunday in Virginia’s Prince William County. He has been arrested twice before and charged with drunken driving, county police said.

Police say Montano, who is from Bolivia, was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement after at least one arrest, and a prosecutor said he knew of at least one other occasion when Montano had been referred to immigration officials.

The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that Montano was released in 2008, pending an immigration judge’s review of his case. As of this month, a judge had not ruled on his deportation.

Napolitano, whose department includes ICE, called the crash a “terrible thing” Tuesday. She said she immediately ordered officials to look into the situation. “Why were the removal proceedings taking so long?” she asked.

The county’s top elected leader and a Kentucky congressman, both Republicans, criticized federal immigration officials for not deporting Montano.

 

The accident “demonstrates the need for ICE to be more efficient and effective in their deportation duties,” U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in an e-mailed statement.

Corey Stewart, the chairman of Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors, championed and implemented one of the nation’s strictest county-level anti-illegal immigration policies. The local law requires that police inquire about the immigration status of all people arrested on suspicion of violating a state or local law.

He says it’s “extremely frustrating” that despite the policy, not all those turned over to ICE are removed from the country.

A Catholic nun and spokeswoman for the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia says the nuns involved in the accident — Sister Denise Mosier, who was killed, and sisters Charlotte Lange and Connie Ruth Lupton, who were critically injured — have always stayed out of the debate over immigration.

Sister Glenna Smith says the Catholic nuns have always provided social services — including adult literacy courses and counseling — regardless of immigration status, and they are upset the tragedy has become fodder for policy debate.

“It is not optional for us to choose mercy and forgiveness. We know this young man will be brought to justice, that’s appropriate, and we hope he will learn to make better choices,” Smith said.