Reporting Schultheis' criticism of Ritter on immigration, Rocky omitted legislator's controversial email questioning immigration status of victims in fatal car crash

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In an article about Republican state Sen. David Schultheis' criticism of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's approach to illegal immigration, the Rocky Mountain News ignored its own coverage when it failed to mention the controversy Schultheis sparked in questioning the immigration status of Hispanic victims killed in a Weld County car crash.

A January 16 Rocky Mountain News article reported that state Sen. David Schultheis (R-Colorado Springs) "criticized what he called Gov. Bill Ritter's Band-Aid approach to cracking down on illegal immigration." The article, however, failed to note Schultheis' controversial actions and statements regarding the immigration status of the Hispanic victims of a fatal car accident in rural Weld County, all of whom were U.S. citizens.

As the News article by April M. Washington reported, Schultheis sent an opinion piece to the media that "blasted Ritter for making only a brief five-word comment about illegal immigration in his 42-minute State of the State speech last week before the Colorado General Assembly." The News further noted that Schultheis "criticized several goals outlined in Ritter's speech, including a plan to reduce the dropout rate of Hispanic, black and American Indian students during the next 10 years. He said such an agenda fails to recognize the massive drain children of illegal immigrants have on the education system." Schultheis was quoted as saying that, during his speech, "Gov. Ritter failed to mention the growing interconnection between most of Colorado's problems and the growing invasion of illegal residents in Colorado, primarily from the country to our south."

While reporting on Schultheis' criticism of Ritter over illegal immigration, the News made no mention -- despite the paper's previous coverage -- of an October 4 email that Schultheis sent to the Greeley Tribune while he was still a state representative, "questioning the immigration status" of car accident victims in Weld County.

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, the News reported on October 10, "A lawmaker's e-mail to the Greeley newspaper questioning the immigration status of the family of three children killed in a car accident has caused deep divisions in this northern Colorado farm community." According to the News, the October 2 car accident involved 17-year-old Tania Bustillos, the driver; her 15-year-old brother Enrique, who died that evening; her 12-year-old brother Miguel, who died the following day; and her 3-month-old daughter Destiny Musquiz, who was taken off life support on October 4. The News article also noted that, on October 4, "a reporter for the Greeley Tribune received an e-mail from state Rep. Dave Schultheis" in which he asked several questions regarding the immigration status of the victims:

"Was the driver properly licensed? Was the vehicle properly registered and insured? Was this person the child of parents in the U.S. illegally? Or was she here illegally?" Schultheis wrote.

"Why is it that the investigative reports we read in the papers and see on TV do not point out the fact that these accidents and the resulting cost to taxpayers (hospitalization, etc.) are a direct result of our lax immigration policies and enforcement?" he asked.

Later in the same article, the News reported that "Schultheis said he did not know that the fatal accident had just happened and that one of the family members had just been taken off life support. He blamed the Tribune for publishing what he said was a question from one of his constituents at an inopportune time." Schultheis' district does not include Weld County, which is about two hours north of Colorado Springs.

On October 20, the News published an open letter from the Bustillos family in which they avowed their legal residency status as well as that of their daughter and deceased sons. The letter, which they had emailed to Schultheis October 18, also chastised Schultheis for bringing the family's healing process "to an abrupt halt" with his questions:

To answer your questions, yes -- the car was properly registered and insured. Tania followed the required State of Colorado protocol to obtain a driving permit. ALL THE CHILDREN INVOLVED IN THIS ACCIDENT ARE AMERICAN CITIZENS with the same rights as you and your constituent (if the inquiring person is an American citizen). Their mother, Grasiela, is also an AMERICAN CITIZEN. Their father is a LEGAL RESIDENT.

The letter also asked Schultheis, "Is it your position that all Latinos should be assumed 'illegal aliens' unless proven otherwise?"

An October 19 News article reported that Schultheis "did not respond ... to four telephone messages and an e-mail seeking response" to the letter. An October 25 article (registration required) in the Tribune reported Schultheis said it was the Tribune, and not himself, who should apologize:

"I have expressed remorse for the family's loss and have prayed often for healing for them," Schultheis said. "As I have said on many occasions, the apology should come from the Greeley Tribune for the angst caused by their unconscionable and deliberate placing of an e-mail on their Web site that they knew would create a major uproar. Shame on them."

Moreover, Cara DeGette of the online political daily news site Colorado Confidential noted in a November 25 blog entry about Schultheis that the Bustillos family had "asked for a formal apology from the lawmaker, which they never received."

From the January 16 Rocky Mountain News article by April M. Washington, "Immigration critic blasts Ritter":

State Sen. David Schultheis on Monday criticized what he called Gov. Bill Ritter's Band-Aid approach to cracking down on illegal immigration.

In an opinion piece he sent to the media, the Colorado Springs Republican blasted Ritter for making only a brief five-word comment about illegal immigration in his 42-minute State of the State speech last week before the Colorado General Assembly.

"Gov. Ritter failed to mention the growing interconnection between most of Colorado's problems and the growing invasion of illegal residents in Colorado, primarily from the country to our south," he said.

Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Ritter, noted that the Colorado legislature in 2006 enacted some of the toughest anti-immigration legislation in the country.

[...]

Schultheis, a leading critic of illegal immigration, criticized several goals outlined in Ritter's speech, including a plan to reduce the dropout rate of Hispanic, black and American Indian students during the next 10 years.

He said such an agenda fails to recognize the massive drain children of illegal immigrants have on the education system.

Schultheis also blamed illegal immigration for Colorado's rising health care and prison problems, saying Ritter "ought to be addressing the key causes to this escalation."

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany praised the Ritter administration's plan to reduce the dropout rate among minority students.

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