WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Pick a day and you'll find stories on the news about hardworking, deserving illegal immigrants who contribute to and love this country. But there's a less-acknowledged flip side to the coin, illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes on US soil.
The death of Kate Steinle last July drew national attention because the man who shot her was in the U-S illegally and had been deported five times and convicted of seven felonies. But the problem of Importing Murder is much greater, one that's often understated by politicians and advocates who have special interests at stake.
Laura Wilkerson recounts the final hours of her son Josh.
"He had been bound up with, like, 13 ropes from here to here, through his back belt loop, through his hands and his feet, like an animal."
Her son had given a ride home to Hermilo Moralez, a high school classmate and illegal immigrant with an arrest record.
"He hit him so hard in the stomach that it made his spleen go into the spine and it sliced it in two. Then, he tortured him by strangling him then, he put him in a field and he set his body on fire."
Josh is among thousands of victims of undocumented foreigners who committed crimes on U.S. soil and then, through policy failures, loopholes or mistakes were set free to carry out more crimes.
Sharyl Attkisson spoke with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Attkisson: Do you think that the problem of illegal immigrants who commit crimes in this country is bigger than some people know?
Sen. Grassley: I think that it is greater than what we think.
Senator Grassley began investigating after cases like Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez. In 2013, he was mistakenly granted amnesty under President Obama's executive action. His gang membership and previous drug arrest should have excluded him.
In February, Rangel-Hernandez was charged with killing four people in a North Carolina murder spree. One of the victims-- a former contestant on America's Next Top Model.
"You've got an administration that thinks more highly of their interest in protecting undocumented workers than there is enforcing the law and in the process of making that decision, violating their constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of this country," said Grassley.
Families of five victims said politics and political correctness have forced their personal tragedies into the shadows while shielding criminals.
"Especially in San Francisco, they become a protected class. Whatever they do, they get away with," said Don Rosenberg.
Rosenberg's son, Drew was on his way home from law school in San Francisco when he was run over and killed by an illegal immigrant.
Roberto Galo had been caught five months earlier driving the wrong way down a street with no license or insurance. He kept driving, unlicensed, until the day he killed Drew.
It was less than three miles from where an illegal immigrant allegedly shot Kate Steinle in July. Drew's case-- five years before-- wasn't featured on national news.
Attkisson: Do you all feel after what happened to your loved ones that there's, in some instances, almost a black out in the media and elsewhere?
Sabine Durden: Yes.
Laura Wilkerson: Oh yeah.
Attkisson: ... discussing the issue of illegal immigrants?
Rosenberg: I don't feel it. It is.
Durden: We know it. We know it.
Sabine Durden's only child, Dominic, was a 911 dispatcher. He was driving his motorcycle to work in 2012 when he was hit by an illegal immigrant with a long rap sheet.
"He had a prior felony conviction, then he had a DUI. And he got put on probation with a DUI even though he had no license, no insurance, and no registration. So then he had another DUI while he was on probation for the first DUI," said Durden.
Two months later he was still driving without a license when he killed Dominic.
Attkisson: Have people looked at you as if you're some sort of prejudiced person?
Durden: Of course.
Attkisson: Because of speaking out on behalf of your loss?
Durden: I've been called a racist and then I show 'em the picture of Dominic. Dominic was half black. What else you got? Can't call me a racist. Then they come with their "anti-immigration" and then I share with them that I became a citizen. I immigrated here.
It's not easy to find how often illegal immigrants commit serious crimes in the U.S. the federal government doesn't publicize the numbers. Senator Grassley demanded them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. What he got was astonishing.
In 2013 and 2014 alone, ICE set loose 66,565 illegal immigrant criminals who had 166,877 convictions.
Already, more than two thousand of those criminals have been convicted of new crimes in the U.S.-- including felonies and gang offenses since their release.
Mesa, Arizona police officer Brandon Mendoza witnessed the revolving door firsthand.
"It would be very disheartening for him to feel that, 'the guy I just stopped tonight was a guy I stopped two months ago, mom, he's back,'" said Mary Ann Mendoza.
Criminals like Raul Silva-Corona, who lived illegally in the U.S. for twenty years while committing crimes like burglary, assault and leaving the scene of an accident.
On Mother's Day last year, Silva-Corona got drunk and high on meth, drove 35 miles the wrong way on freeways and ran head-on into Officer Mendoza's car, killing them both.
"I was furious. And especially when I found out that he had committed crimes previously and had been allowed to stay in our country and had not been punished for anything that he had done," said Mendoza.
By ICE's count, illegal immigrants convicted of crimes, then released, went on to commit 121 more homicides in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014.
"My nephew was number 122," said Mike Ronnebeck.
Mike Ronnebeck's 21-year old nephew Grant was clerking on the graveyard shift at a Mesa, Arizona convenience store in January when he was attacked, allegedly by an illegal immigrant with an arrest record.
That record included burglary, sexual assault and kidnapping - charges he pled down to felony burglary and probation.
"The crime that this illegal alien committed was to burglarize a woman in her house, holding her hostage for a week, naked, threatening her... day 792 of this man waiting for his bond hearing or his deportation hearing, he killed my nephew Grant," said Ronnebeck.
"The man shot him point blank in the face, killing him," he said.
At a hearing in April, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) grilled ICE Director Sarah Saldaña.
Salaña: I cannot deport any individual without an order from the court. Either an immigration court or a federal court.
Rep. Smith: Right. And if you sought that order you could deport thousands of these individuals and you're not trying to do it.
Salaña: The criminal justice system releases murderers, rapists, sexual assaulters every day when a federal judge decides... this person does not present a flight risk or is a... danger to the community. That's the same considerations the law, and the regulations prescribe.
Rep. Smith: The law allows you to deport those individuals - if you want.
Senator Grassley says he's heard from one whistleblower after another inside ICE, claiming they're told not to do their job.
Sen. Grassley: Ignore the laws, just do everything you can to have people that ought to be deported to be able to stay in this country.
Attkisson: So it's not, in their view, always an accident that people who have committed crimes are allowed to stay?
Sen. Grassley: The people that have to make that decision are told to make that decision. When they get the orders from the top and they don't do it, they're going to lose their job.
Attkisson spoke to an ICE agent who said the same thing. He asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.
"We have to sit back and watch people die and that's not an exaggeration. We have Kate Steinle that was killed, that happens every day. That's the most horrific thing is to know, that you have the ability to prevent this and the government would rather not offend anybody than keep people from dying," he said.
"I know that this country welcomes immigrants. This country was built by immigrants. But we're also a country of laws. And when we have people that cross our borders that don't have the same respect for our laws that we do, it bothers me. And it bothers me that we can't hold them accountable," said Ronnebeck.
Don Rosenberg attended a congressional hearing in July convened after Kate Steinle's death. He lashed out when an advocate said illegal immigrants should not be judged by a few bad apples.
"A few... thousands, thousands of people - not a few," he said as police escorted him out.
Forty-five House Republicans have co-sponsored "Kate's Law" to mandate five years in prison for any undocumented alien who returns to the U.S. after being deported. But the bill has stalled.
"We're just collateral damage in their attempt to garner votes on the left and, you know, financial donations on the right. It's crazy," said Rosenberg.
Greg Chen is an advocate for illegal immigrants with the American Immigration Lawyers Association or AILA.
"What AILA cautions is that lawmakers not jump to the conclusion of trying to punish the immigrant community and scapegoat them," he said.
He referred to a study showing most immigrants are law abiding.
Chen: There's no indication that immigrants are any more likely to commit a crime than anybody else.
Attkisson: Isn't it true that the study doesn't break out the illegal immigrant population specifically? So we may assume that they don't commit crimes at a higher rate, but we really don't know?
Chen: You're right. It doesn't break down that particular... population of unauthorized versus those who are here legally.
In the end, Chen says the best way to track those who are dangerous is to allow all illegal immigrants in the U.S. to become documented.
"It's both good for Americans in terms of national security and public safety, but benefits the economy as well as immigrant families and businesses," he said.
The families of the victims say they're weary of being treated as if their rights and interests take a backseat to those who wouldn't be here if laws were enforced.
"The leniencies that our government is showing these illegal criminals is costing innocent Americans their life," said Mendoza.
"For me, it's being a mom who lost her only child and my best friend... it's about righting wrong. Has nothing to do with race. Has nothing to do with where you come from... Mexico, Germany, Canada, I don't care where you come from. You gotta do it the right way. Cause we're losing too many kids. We're losing too many family members. And nobody talks about it," said Durden.
"Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson" airs on Sinclair Broadcast Group stations on Sunday mornings. Click here for specific air times in your region. Follow "Full Measure" on Twitter (@FullMeasureNews).