MATT LOWELL: After Danelo Cavalcante, it's time to put DHS's Alejandro Mayorkas in the hot seat

The story of Danelo Souza Cavalcante is, perhaps unsurprisingly, full of timeline gaps and unanswered questions. Read any article covering the murder of Deborah Brandão and Cavalcante’s subsequent escape from Chester County Prison and you will find little more than the basic details.

In November of 2017, Cavalcante shot and killed a student, Walter Júnior, in the city of Figueirópolis, Brazil. Within a week, a warrant was issued and Cavalcante became a fugitive. In January of 2018, he left the country through Brasília International Airport (BSB) and successfully disappeared from the public eye upon arrival in the United States.

Ater this, details became scant. We now know, thanks to recent investigations, that Cavalcante met and began a relationship with Deborah Brandão. Eventually, Brandão terminated their relationship amid frequent threats of violence from Cavalcante, who refused to accept the breakup.

As a result, on April 8, 2021, Cavalcante stabbed Brandão to death in front of her children, ages 4 and 7. He was then arrested and sentenced to life in prison, but managed to escape incarceration on August 31, 2023.

Despite all the information that has come out, a criminal court case, and multiple investigations, two questions remain unanswered. Firstly, why wasn’t Cavalcante deported after his conviction? And, secondly, how he was allowed to enter the United States freely as a fugitive wanted for murder in Brazil?

The argument being made by the establishment media is that U.S. law enforcement couldn't and can’t be expected to have known that a fugitive from Brazil had entered the country. In the words of the New York Times, "the United States is home to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom intentionally stay in the shadows and steer clear of trouble with law enforcement… Even if Brazil had issued an Interpol notice calling for his arrest, the United States would have had no reason to believe he was living in the United States.”

Frankly, the expectation that we should accept that as a legitimate excuse is deeply troubling.

The question of where an immigrant should be tried for a crime is and perhaps always will be a gray area for legal experts to debate until the end of time. Sometimes, an immigrant who commits a crime in the U.S. will be sent back to their homeland. Sometimes, they’re tried here (as in the case of Danelo Cavalcante). Granted, I’m not an immigration lawyer, but I can’t imagine a compelling reason why he shouldn’t have been immediately deported upon conviction.

What is more, the fact that an escaped fugitive wanted for murder was able to enter the United States in the first place is extremely troubling. The Left is fond of asking us to “reimagine” everything from policing to workplace expectations. Here’s my ask: can we please reimagine our immigration system so that it isn't completely broken?

And yes, it is completely broken. Don’t take my word for it – ask United States Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. In an interview conducted last month by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Mayorkas stated that “fundamentally, we are dealing with a broken immigration system, and that includes the asylum process.”

On the subject of asylum, Mayorkas laments that "the time from initial encounter of an individual who makes a claim for relief and the final adjudication of that claim is all too often many years," and the difficulty is that "people settle; they have children here in the United States; and it becomes very difficult to remove them should they not succeed in their ultimate asylum claim."

Maybe this problem would be alleviated if migrants weren’t allowed to enter the country in the first place? Maybe asylum-seekers should have to stay in one of Mexico’s nine U.S. embassies until their claim is verified, or the administration could make it an explicit priority to shorten the time it takes to verify asylum claims, or maybe it could do virtually anything aside from allowing caravans of thousands of migrants to enter the country illegally, unchecked and unchallenged?

These questions are just one of many reasons why Secretary Mayorkas has his share of critics, and rightly so. House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green recently published a fact sheet alleging that Mayorkas is running a “shell game” and shielding almost a million deportable immigrants from removal. How can the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledge that the U.S. immigration system is “fundamentally broken” and yet do presumably nothing to fix it?

When asked why we can't overhaul the system, Mayorkas defaults towards vague excuses such as "we're gridlocked in Congress," and "the solution is proving tremendously elusive." There certainly is a contingency of Congressional representatives who openly advocate for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including Kirsten Gillibrand, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velázquez, Earl Blumenauer, Pramila Jayapal, Jim McGovern, and Mark Pocan, among others.

But what exactly is Mayorkas asking Congress for and not receiving?

Curiously, the aforementioned coalition consists exclusively of Democrats. It’s worth noting that, prior to his appointment to the Biden administration, Mayorkas was a prominent donor to Democrat candidates and causes with over 100 contributions between 2020 and 2002, including five-figure sums to the Democratic National Committee and the Biden Victory Fund. Again, it’s worth pondering what Congressional “gridlock” is, allegedly, preventing a Mayorkas-run DHS from achieving.

The deeper you dive into his priorities you'll find nothing but hollow platitudes about "building lawful pathways for people to come to the United States," as if to suggest that the solution to the problem with the U.S. immigration system is that we simply haven’t figured out enough ways to get more immigration into the country.

What you and I might call "solving the border crisis," Mayorkas calls "[dispelling] fears through a very thoughtful and comprehensive approach to irregular migration to our southern border." Similarly, what we might call "deportation," he calls "disincentivizing those who do not avail themselves of the lawful pathways." Notice his empty, euphemistic language.

This is the language, the attitude, and the sociopolitical climate that invites or, at the very least, turns a blind eye to Danelo Cavalcante and his ilk. When our leaders and institutions are soft on crime, innocent people die.

That is why Mayorkas deserves this spotlight. He continually refuses to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, only ever occasionally paying it empty, unspecific lip service. He also blames external factors and rejects that the Department of Homeland Security can do more to solve it— and did, under different leadership.

Under Former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and the Acting Secretaries that succeeded her, the number of criminal noncitizen arrests made by U.S. Border Patrol steadily declined each year; from 8,531 in the 2017 fiscal year (October 1, 2016- September 30, 2017), to 6,698 in 2018; 4,269 in 2019; and finally to 2,438 in 2020. Mayorkas assumed office in February of 2021 and annual arrests for that fiscal year shot from 2,438 to 10,763—an 441 percent increase. In 2022, that number rose again to 12,028. As of September 12, 2023, it’s 10,810.

The US sees more immigration than just what comes up from the southern border, but this exemplifies a simple but poignant truth: the number of criminal noncitizen arrests didn’t fall because the Trump-era DHS was soft on crime or choosing not to arrest criminals. The number of arrests fell because actually enforcing federal immigration laws and deporting those that enter into the U.S. illegally discourages mass migration. Conversely, lax attitudes and a failure to enforce the law only incentivizes more border crossings. Again, it’s quite a simple concept.

We were told that Nielsen’s tenure was “brutal and calamitous;” that the border wall was only erected to “remind Latinos that [they’re] unwelcome;” that Trump “and his henchmen” keep children in cages “as a perverse way of celebrating Christmas;” and that Republicans “don’t feel a moral compulsion to treat [migrants] like human beings.” Essentially, the media ran through every possible inflammatory, evocative, emotionally-charged accusation they could conjure. And yet, the administration they demonize made fewer criminal noncitizen arrests in four years than the current administration has made in less than three. If arrests for 2024 are comparable to 2021-2023, Biden’s appointee will have been responsible for twice as many arrests as Trump’s appointees.

And yet, despite all of the arrests, illegal immigration to the U.S. hasn’t slowed down—it’s only accelerated. So what’s happening here? Is it the reimplementation of catch-and-release? Is it that the real number of immigrants entering the U.S. is so staggering that 10,000-12,000 arrests somehow only represents a tiny fraction of the total number of migrant crossings— a number that is far beyond ICE’s capability to manage? Is it some combination of the two? Is it something else entirely?

Any way you slice it, it’s absolutely out of control.

It’s obvious that immigration was a deciding issue for voters in 2016, and it’s one of the largest factors to which Trump’s meteoric rise to popularity can be attributed. Any non-Trump candidate looking to lock in the populist vote in 2024 would to well to get in front of this issue, because it’s again going to be top-of-mind in the upcoming election cycle.

Leftist media pundits will take advantage of any incident of gun violence to condemn all law-abiding gun owners, but they never use acts of violence committed by illegal immigrants to condemn all illegal immigrants. In fact, the Left’s loudest voices remain decidedly and silent on stories like that of Danelo Cavalcante. It can’t be exploited as a gun violence story, and his status as an illegal immigrant can’t be highlighted. And so, the compassionate Left refrains from commenting on the barbaric murder of an innocent woman.

To take a page from their playbook, how many U.S. citizens must die before we solve our immigration crisis?

This administration continues to fail to protect its borders, and thus, its citizens. While Biden spends time and effort trying to convince us to ditch the term “illegal alien” in favor of "undocumented noncitizen," our response should instead be to ask why anyone (alien, migrant, noncitizen, or otherwise) should remain "undocumented" in the United States. It doesn't matter what you call the condition— if we haven't documented them, verified their asylum claims, and assured that they’re not the next Danelo Cavalcante, perhaps they shouldn’t be entering this country.

Image: Title: Mayorkas Cav