When Sabine Durden accepted an invitation from the Bruin Republicans at the University of California Los Angeles to discuss illegal immigration with a campus-wide audience, she anticipated hostility. But since Durden’s talk would focus specifically on the tragic vehicular homicide death of her son, Dominic, and perpetrated by an immigrant living here illegally, she hoped to touch a few hearts.
In 2012, a drunk Guatemalan named Juan Zacarias Tzun smashed his truck into Dominic’s motorcycle as he drove to work in Moreno Valley, Calif. Dominic died instantly. Tzun, then 33 and with a long rap sheet that included arrests for felony armed robbery and two prior DUIs, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge —- vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence —- but spent only 35 days in jail. In March 2014, and after two years of Durden’s persistent pressure, Tzun was deported to Guatemala.
Durden expected to tell her story uninterrupted. Instead, a student in the audience hummed loudly, banged on his desk while others stridently laughed as Durden spoke. Despite efforts from the Republican organizers to silence the crowd and undeterred by the presence of campus police officers, the noise continued unabated. “Dom’s Mom,” as Durden is proud to be called, said she felt disrespected, but was determined to continue speaking.
During the question and answer period, the students showed Durden no compassion, and demonstrated little understanding or concern of how illegal immigration can lead to crimes that often have fatal consequences. One student charged Durden with anti-immigrant racism, but she countered that people like Tzun are not immigrants, and that by definition their presence in the United States is unlawful. Durden is a legal immigrant from Germany who became a U.S. citizen in 1993.
Another student challenged Durden about the injustice of separating families through deportation. Durden replied that deported illegal immigrant families have a choice to return home together. But Durden’s family was forever separated by a preventable death. When the event ended, students blocked the exit, and to protect her, the police escorted Durden out the back and through an alley to her car.
I spoke with Durden a few days after the UCLA debacle, and she said that the young, inexperienced, easily influenced students have much to learn about life, and that she will pray that none of their loved ones are ever murdered. Durden doesn’t wish that pain even on those who belittled her.
Youth is no excuse for rude behavior, especially from university students who preach, but don’t practice, tolerance. But Durden is no stranger to crass conduct. Last year, when Durden along with other victims’ families, testified to a Senate Judiciary Committee, she noticed several senators sleeping or texting. According to Durden, however, the senators’ indifference to the heartbreaking stories they heard pales in comparison to President Obama’s callousness. Although Obama routinely invites illegal immigrants to celebrate with him at White House events, he has steadfastly refused to visit with Durden or others whose lives have been permanently altered because of his unwillingness to enforce immigration laws.
Today, four years after Dom’s murder, the Department of Homeland Security admitted this week that illegal immigration has soared 23 percent since last year. The strong probability is that criminals like Tzun are among them.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987.