A post this morning addressed this week's media coverage of key players in the Los Angeles arson drama: The suspected arsonist and his fraud suspect mother, both German nationals, and the man who nabbed him, a Sheriff's Department reservist born in Iran.
Had the immigrant background of the hero, part-time deputy and full-time cop Shervin Lalezary, been swept under the rug, a post on the AlterNet site asked? And in reverse, had media coverage of the immigration status of suspects Harry Burkhart and his mother Dorothee, who is wanted for fraud in Germany (and also happens to be undocumented) been way overblown?
I explained some of the rationale behind covering the immigration aspect of the arson suspect's story in the post, which has been making the rounds on Twitter. Then I saw this tweet from reader James Fujita @jim61773, which made me smile:
A short piece that appeared on AlterNet made an interesting point about how media handled the story of Shervin Lalezary, the attorney and Los Angeles County Sheriff's reservist who made the traffic stop that netted suspected mass arsonist Harry Burkhart on Monday.
Both men are foreign-born. Lalezary was born in Iran and is an immigrant to the United States. Burkhart is a German national reportedly born in Chechnya. He had spent some time living in the U.S., although he held a non-immigrant visa. His mother Dorothee Burkhart, who became part of the story as she went to court Tuesday on fraud charges and faces extradition to Germany, is undocumented. It's unclear how long she had been living here without a visa.
Why, Maurice Belanger asks in the AlterNet post, was so much made of the Burkharts' immigration status, while there was little mention of Lalezary's immigrant background? He writes:
Not only was the mother of Los Angeles arson suspect Harry Burkhart not in deportation proceedings, but it seems immigration authorities until recently had no record of her being in the United States since her last recorded exit almost five years ago.
According to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement released late this afternoon, 24-year-old Harry Burkhart was in the country legally on a visa. But his mother, considered a fugitive from Germany and facing extradition, was not. From the ICE statement:
At the time of his arrest, Harry Burkhart was in the country lawfully on a non-immigrant visa, which expires Jan. 18.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has lodged an immigration detainer against Mr. Burkhart, indicating ICE will seek to take him into custody upon his release by local authorities to pursue any appropriate follow-up immigration enforcement action.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records indicate his mother, Dorothee Burkhart, currently has no lawful immigration status.
According to DHS databases, Ms. Burkhart last entered the United States lawfully in January 2007 and departed the country four months later. Given Ms. Burkhart’s lack of status, ICE has also lodged an immigration detainer against her.
The federal complaint against Dorothee Burkhart, the mother of suspected arsonist Harry Burkhart, is rather a lengthy list of fraud accusations from Germany.
It had been reported yesterday and earlier today that she faced deportation, and that her 24-year-old son, who is suspected of setting more than 50 fires over the holiday weekend, most of them in the Hollywood area, had an angry outburst in immigration court at her hearing. Not so.
The elder Burkhart, a German citizen who faces extradition to her native country and is being considered a fugitive, appeared in federal court today in Los Angeles, where she was arrested last week. Charged with 19 counts of fraud, she is accused of bilking a long string of renters and, in addition, the plastic surgeon who performed her breast augmentation in 2004.
UPDATED: According to the U.S. Marshals Service, Dorothee Burkhart was arrested in Los Angeles last Wednesday "pursuant to the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant, which seeks her extradition to the Republic of Germany, where she faces numerous counts of fraud." The warrant was issued Dec. 19.
The Los Angeles arson suspect who reportedly caused a scene at his German mother's hearing didn't do so in immigration court over a pending deportation, as has been reported, but in federal court last week over his mother's possible extradition to Germany on criminal charges.
According to spokesman Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, the mother of 24-year-old Harry Burkhart, suspected of setting close more than 50 arson fires over the weekend, was arrested last week in Los Angeles on a provisional warrant related to a criminal case in Germany. He couldn't elaborate on the charges against the elder Burkhart, only to say that it's technically not an extradition yet, but that a provisional arrest warrant is typically the first step in an extradition case.