Gov. Wes Moore (D-Md.) Blames Congressional Republicans for Border Fiasco Following Migrant Murder

Has anyone but me actually read the Senate border bill?

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 22, 2024

Rachel Morin

Rachel Morin, a 37-year-old mother of five, was raped and killed while walking on a suburban trail in Harford County, Md., last August. The suspect, Victor Martinez Hernandez, is a 23-year-old migrant from El Salvador who reportedly entered illegally in February 2023, a month after the murder of a young woman there for which he was charged. He’s also a suspect in a “brutal” March 2023 home invasion in Los Angeles, during which a mother and her nine-year-old daughter were assaulted. The case has triggered a debate over responsibility for the fiasco at the Southwest border, with Maryland Democratic Gov. Wes Moore blaming congressional Republicans for failing to pass the so-called “bipartisan” Senate border bill — a bill I’m increasingly convinced that nobody, except me, has ever bothered to read, and one that would undermine, not support, border security and public safety.

Rape and Murder on the “Ma & Pa”. Morin was last seen alive around 6 p.m. on August 5, 2023, walking along the “Ma & Pa Heritage Trail”, so called because it runs along the track bed of the former Maryland and Pennsylvania Railway. It’s a popular — but heavily wooded — jogging and biking route in suburban Harford County northeast of Baltimore.

Morin failed to return home, and her boyfriend notified the authorities of her disappearance that night. Morin’s body was found in a drainpipe near the trail the next day by a volunteer searcher, naked in a pool of blood with severe head trauma near a blood-stained rock.

The Investigation and the Arrest. It was quickly determined that DNA collected at the scene matched that of the suspect in a March 2023 attack in Los Angeles, during which a mother and her nine-year-old daughter were “violently assaulted” during what was described as a “home invasion”. Video from that scene revealed the offender to be a Hispanic male of medium height and build. The DNA led investigators to suspect Hernandez.

Authorities determined that he had made his way to Tulsa, Okla., where Hernandez was living in “a densely populated suburb, just a short drive from several schools, churches and an airport”.

He was arrested at a nearby bar on June 14, and as a Tulsa Police press release explained: “Officers found the suspect casually sitting at the bar and placed him under arrest. Initially the suspect lied about his true identity and denied any knowledge of the crimes he is wanted for.”

Harford County Sheriff: “We Are 1,800 Miles from the Southern Border.” In announcing the arrest the following day, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler complained:

We are 1,800 miles from the Southern border here in Harford County. This is the second woman in our county to be killed by illegal suspects. In both cases, they are suspects from El Salvador with ties to criminal gangs ... . [This] should not be happening. Victor Hernandez did not come here to make a better life for himself, or for his family, he came here to escape a crime he committed in El Salvador.

The Rape and Murder of Kayla Hamilton. The first victim Sheriff Gahler referenced was Kayla Hamilton, an autistic 20-year-old girl who was found strangled to death in Harford County. In testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee in January, her mother Tammy Nobles recounted her death, explaining:

[O]n July 27th, 2022, I received the worst news that a parent doesn’t want to hear that my newly 20-year-old daughter Kayla Hamilton was murdered in her own room and left on the floor like trash.

The illegal MS-13 known gang member brutally raped and murdered my daughter by strangling her with a cord and robbed her of $6.00. During the attack Kayla called her boyfriend for help but went to voicemail. The voicemail of the murderer strangling Kayla was 2 minutes and 30 seconds long.

You’ll note that I have not mentioned the name of the accused in Hamilton’s death, and that’s for good reason: His name hasn’t been released because he’s a minor. As my colleague Jon Feere reported in January, he entered the United States illegally as an unaccompanied alien child (UAC), and it was later reported that he had crossed near Rio Grande City, Texas, in March 2022.

As a UAC, the suspect was handed over by CBP to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under an extremely problematic 2008 law, section 235(b) of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA).

If you want to understand why I refer to section 235(b) of the TVPRA as “problematic”, I suggest that you take a look at this November 2022 post. Suffice it say, however, that the law requires DHS to turn any removable alien minor it encounters who isn’t from Canada or Mexico over to ORR within 72 hours, for placement with a “sponsor” in the United States, and thus facilitates (if not encourages) child smuggling.

In any event, Feere’s news and later reporting on the case apparently prompted the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation into the UAC’s presence here in February, and on May 23, the committee issued its interim report. Among its findings were the following:

  • Years before coming to the U.S., the alien who murdered Kayla was arrested in El Salvador for “illicit association” with the dangerous MS-13 gang.

  • Law enforcement officials investigating Kayla’s murder after the fact verified this information by merely contacting El Salvadoran officials.

  • Law enforcement officials investigating Kayla’s murder also noticed the alien’s gang tattoos, a fact not disclosed in the alien’s case file held by [ORR] at the time of his placement or in the DHS alien file at the time of his apprehension.

  • The case note about gang tattoos by law enforcement officials, dated August 2022, came mere months after the alien was in the care of DHS, ORR, and his sponsor.

  • While the alien’s homicide charge was pending and after his affiliation with MS-13 was disclosed, authorities still placed the alien in a foster home with other children present.

Those findings would appear to lend support to the $100 million lawsuit Nobles filed against DHS and HHS for the wrongful death of her daughter in January.

Local reporting, citing the family’s attorney, explains the DHS portion of the suit is premised on the department’s “operational negligence” in vetting the UAC when he was apprehended at the border, and alleges HHS in turn “recklessly allow[ed] the killer to stay with an 'unverified' sponsor who was not a family member”.

“Rachel Morin Killing Intensifies Immigration Debate Among Maryland Federal Lawmakers”. Again, Morin’s killing has focused the attention of Marylanders on the crisis at the faraway Southwest border Sheriff Gahler referenced, which brings me to a June 19 article in the Baltimore Sun, headlined “Rachel Morin killing intensifies immigration debate among Maryland federal lawmakers”.

That headline is a bit of a misnomer, because while it quotes the state’s two Democratic senators, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both of whom called the immigration system “broken”, as if that helps matters) and two congressmen (Reps. Jamie Raskin (D) and Andy Harris (R) — the latter of whom represents Harford County), the most interesting excerpt is from the state’s Democratic governor, Wes Moore, who as the state’s chief executive isn’t a “federal lawmaker” at all.

The article states: “On ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday, Democratic Gov. Wes Moore called it ‘unbelievably frustrating’ that a coalition of Democrats and Republicans could not approve a border bill because Trump ‘said this was not advantageous politically’”.

The “border bill” in question is H.R. 815, a proposal drafted by Sens. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.), Krysten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). It was introduced in the Senate and February and quickly failed a key test vote on party lines, only to be brought up again in an amended version in May and blocked again — this time on a bipartisan basis.

I likely shouldn’t single out Moore, because Van Hollen, Cardin, and Raskin also singled out Republican opposition to the bill to shift blame for the border crisis away from the Biden White House to the GOP.

Raskin’s comments, in particular, bear notice:

It’s dismaying that our GOP Colleagues abandoned potentially historic and thoroughly bipartisan border security legislation because ex-President Trump wants a border crisis, not a border solution ... . Improving border security and overhauling our ailing immigration system are long overdue policy imperatives.

That said, Raskin and Moore appeared to be on the same page with respect to three key points: (1) H.R. 815 would have been a “magic bullet” for what ails the border; (2) it failed due to GOP opposition; and (3) that opposition was spurred by Trump, who in Raskin’s words, “wants a border crisis, not a border solution”.

With respect to the third point, I’ve tried diligently to find any comment from the former president stating that he wants to keep the border crisis going as an issue against President Biden in the upcoming election, to no avail. The only Trump statement I’ve found is the following, from his Truth Social account:

H.R. 815: Magic Beans, Not a Magic Bullet. Which brings me to the first point, whether H.R. 815 would have any positive impact on border security.

As I’ve explained in great depth elsewhere and as the Center has made clear in a two-page fact sheet on that bill in May, H.R. 815 would have perpetuated the crisis at the border because it would have codified the “catch-and-release” policies the Biden administration has implemented in defiance of Congress’s statutory migrant-detention mandates.

That, in turn, would impede the ability of any administration — either the current one if it decided to actually detain illegal entrants at the border, or any future one — to secure the border, and would open the courts for habeas suits by detained migrants seeking release.

Plenty of people have opinions about this bill, but no one — no one — has ever countered any of these points. The Sun certainly doesn’t, and in fact it never explains what H.R. 815 would do.

I think that there are two reasons for that. The first is that extremely few people — “federal lawmakers”, “experts”, or “journalists” — who have opined on the bill and lauded its merits have actually read even one word of it.

The second reason, to be fair, is that they would have a tough time reading if they tried. This (370-page) bill is written in a way that makes it equal parts James Joyce’s Ulysses and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and appreciating what it does requires deep immersion in immigration law.

But that’s no excuse — lawmakers and journalists can find an expert who has read and can explain it to them instead of relying simply on partisan talking points.

Speaking of partisan talking points, it’s shameful that none of the people cited in that Sun article — let alone the writer — ever mentions that that the border provisions in H.R. 815, recast as the “Border Act of 2024”, S. 4361, failed in May due to bipartisan disapproval in the Senate — not just GOP opposition.

The May vote was 43 yeas to 50 nays in a chamber with only 49 Republican senators, so that should be the first clue, and among those who voted against it were both Democratic senators from California and Massachusetts (respectively), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — and two of the three original sponsors, Sinema and Lankford.

All of this makes me think that H.R. 815/S. 4361 was never intended to pass into law but only to provide partisan cover for an administration facing voter opposition to its border policies but unwilling to change them. Why Lankford went along is anybody’s guess, but my best guess is he was hornswoggled by the magic beans Biden DHS officials — who were present during drafting — were peddling.

“The Other Wes Moore”. While I expect rank political posturing over the border from those federal representatives, I had higher hopes for Gov. Moore.

That’s because while he has an exceptionally impressive resume — veteran, Rhodes Scholar, former CEO — he’s most famous as the author of The Other Wes Moore, an autobiography of his escape from the crime and violence of Baltimore and also the biography of a man who grew up nearby with the same name, who is serving life in prison for killing a police officer.

Moore thus has a “lived experience” of the impacts of crime (like many in Maryland), and as chief executive of the Free State, has an obligation to protect his constituents from it. When it comes to Rachel Morin and Kayla Hamilton, he’s failed in that duty, but worse, he continues to fail.

I’ve never met the governor, but he and I would likely agree that — by and large — most immigrants don’t pose a criminal risk, and in fact we would likely concur that even most illegal migrants in Maryland present no special danger to the community.

The problem — assuming that the criminal charges against Hernandez and the unnamed UAC are proven, and each is entitled to a presumption of innocence — is that some illegal migrants are a criminal threat, and the likelihood that will harm Moore’s constituents is heightened by their illegal manner of entry.

If all the allegations against Hernandez and the UAC are true, and each had known gang affiliations and Hernandez was wanted for murder in El Salvador, neither would have been allowed to enter this country legally.

Both would have been stopped at a U.S. consulate abroad and denied a visa had they applied for one, and each should have been detained — as again the law requires — when they entered illegally; in the course of that detention their histories would have almost definitely been discovered.

The New York Post reports that Hernandez actually entered illegally on four separate occasions. Two times he came in January 2023 (once in El Paso, Texas, and once in New Mexico), and he entered again in New Mexico the next month.

On each of those occasions he was apprehended by Border Patrol, but agents are under such tight restrictions to clear migrants from custody that they apparently never checked to see if he had a record back home.

The fourth time he eluded agents, and thus was one of the 670,674 “got-aways” recorded by CBP last fiscal year. Compare that to the fewer than 151,500 got aways in FY 2019 and then understand the reason that so many migrants are eluding apprehension now is that agents are too overwhelmed by the Biden border surge to stop them.

Still, his case pales in comparison to the UAC charged in Kayla Hamilton’s case. While ORR is under an obligation to release most alien children to sponsors, one of the few bright spots in the TVPRA is section 235(c)(2), which allows the office to place minors in “a secure facility” if they pose “a danger to self or others or ha[ve] been charged with having committed a criminal offense”.

ORR likely should have checked to see if he had a record before he was released, and if the office wasn’t under such an obligation to review criminal histories of UACs in the past, it should be now.

Wes Moore’s ill-informed comments on the merits of the Senate border bill do nothing to protect Marylanders, two of whom were allegedly raped and murdered by illegal migrants. The governor has instead chosen to parrot political talking points on a bill that would undermine — not advance — border security. It’s a bad choice.