OMAHA, Neb. - An Omaha rally Friday honored a 93-year-old woman who was raped and killed in July and called for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a candidate for governor, spoke at the rally to support victims of crimes committed by people who are in the United States illegally.
Louise Sollowin, 93, was raped and brutally beaten in her South Omaha home July 21. She died in the hospital four days later.
Sergio Martinez-Perez, a Sonora, Mexico, native who is in the country illegally, has been charged in Sollowin's death. Martinez-Perez told authorities he had been drinking before the attack and that he picked his victim randomly.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Omaha has said Martinez-Perez, 19, was caught trying to enter the United States illegally in 2008.
Immigration officials allowed Martinez-Perez to return to Mexico on his own. Authorities do not know when he returned to the country or how long he had been living in Omaha.
King told a crowd outside the City-County Building that, based on a study by his staff, thousands of people would be alive today if America enforced its immigration laws.
"The violent rape and murder of 93-year-old Louise Sollowin was a 100 percent preventable death," King said. "What we needed to do was enforce our existing laws. We didn't even need to pass a new one."
The Immigration Policy Center has disputed King's numbers on crime and illegal immigrants, saying the native born are more likely to be in jail or prison than those who are undocumented.
The event was organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The crowd of about 50 held signs that said "Justice For Louise," "Demand Employers E-verify" and "Secure Our Borders."
Another woman held a sheet with Sollowin's picture on it and the words "A Stolen Life." Martinez-Perez's picture was on a board near the stage of the rally.
Janssen told the crowd failed immigration policies are a factor in Sollowin's death.
"Something must be done to secure our borders and we must do it right now," Janssen said.
Chris Baker, a talk show host for KFAB radio, also spoke. He said immigration reform is not about race but about the rule of law.
Baker said undocumented immigrants who commit homicides deserve the death penalty. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Martinez-Perez.
"Louise Sollowin did not deserve what happened to her," Baker said. "One of the things that bothers me is that the crime that took her life will always stain the memories of her family."
Sollowin's granddaughter, Teresa Hartzell of Council Bluffs, and her husband Bill attended the event.
Hartzell said she understands why immigrants want to come to America to create a better life. Her family members emigrated from Italy years ago.
When she learned her grandmother's suspected killer wasn't legally living in the country, she was angry. She said employers need to be part of the solution to prevent people from being in the country without documentation.
"If there wasn't work for illegal aliens, they wouldn't stay here," she said. "I want employers to be held to the law and not to hire illegal aliens."
The crowd also passed around a petition to convince the Nebraska Legislature to enact "Louise's Law." The proposal would bar local sanctuary policies across the state.