(CNN)In September, a Laos national, illegally in the United States, went to the Fresno, California, County Sheriff's office and opened fire on two corrections officers.
Trump order seeks to cut through obstacles of deporting criminals
Thong Vang had already spent 16 years in prison for rape of underage girls. When his sentence was up, he should have been deported.
But Laos didn't want him back. And with no legal reason to keep him behind bars, he was released.
Vang shot officers Juanita Davila and Toamalama Scanlan. Davila recovered from her wounds, but almost 140 days later, Scanlan is still in critical condition in a hospital. The bullet is still lodged in his head. He hasn't been able to speak, he's battling infections, and was just taken off assisted breathing last week.
"Get him out of the country," his wife, Tepa Scanlan, told CNN on Wednesday.
Laos is one of 23 countries, including China, Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Libya, Somalia and Ghana, that has refused to take back criminals found illegally in the United States. The refusals have left more than 86,000 undocumented immigrants with a criminal history on the streets here. The law designed to deal with the issue gives the State Department the option of denying visas to countries who don't cooperate, but it hasn't been enforced.
There were nearly 3,700 undocumented immigrants from Laos alone with criminal records released back onto the streets, yet 11,000 visas were granted to Laos in the last five years, according to a scathing series of letters that Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent to the Obama administration on this issue last year.
That is changing, according to President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, signed Wednesday.
Tepa Scanlan has, understandably, not been watching cable news lately, and didn't know that part of Trump's immigration reform is to force the State Department to put pressure countries like Laos by denying visas until they comply with US deportation orders.
But while Tepa hasn't agreed with everything Trump says — she does not want to see families torn apart by a harsh new immigration policy — she said that if more would have been done in the past to "tighten immigration," this might not have happened to her husband.
"That's where Trump comes in, I hope," Scanlan said.
The tool that Trump cites has only been used once. In 2001, the State Department discontinued issuing visas to Guyana, and the country took back more than 100 of their citizens within two months, Grassley's letter stated.
Last year, before Vang fired those shots, there was a bipartisan effort in Congress to change the way the United States works with countries in these instances.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held two hearings on the issue, during which the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general blasted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division for its handling of these cases -- most publicly the handling of a Haitian national, Jean Jacques, who Haiti refused to take back who later murdered a Connecticut woman.
There was bipartisan criticism.
"It's a very important issue," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the oversight panel, in July. "(It) is crucial to the safety of all of our communities."
Some Democrats at the hearing said denying visas to a country like China would likely lead them to deny US visas and have negative economic impacts.
In 2006, Chinese national Huang Chen, who overstayed a visa in 1997, was put into deportation proceedings after assaulting a woman. A judge ordered him removed, DHS tried to obtain travel documents from the People's Republic of China, but China refused to grant Chen the necessary documents. After six months of detention, he was released.
Less than two years later, Chen was convicted of assault and DHS again tried to deport him. Again, China refused to issue travel documents and he was again released. He then murdered the woman he was stalking. According to news reports, the victim's heart and lungs were ripped from the body.
A year later, in 2009, Fort Myers, Florida, police officer Andrew Widman was shot in the head while responding to a call for a domestic dispute. The man who shot him, Abel Arango, came to the US illegally from Cuba in the 1990s, and began a life of crime in Florida, serving time in prison for armed robbery. He was released from prison in 2004, and was supposed to be deported, but Cuba wouldn't take him back.
Because of a Supreme Court case that says people can't be legally held here for more than six months if deportation fails, Arango was released from immigration custody.
Widman never had the opportunity to draw his weapon. Arango shot him in close range in the face. The husband and father of three died at the scene, and Arango died in a shootout with police.
"He was a great cop," said Ft. Myers police spokesman Lt. Jay Rodriguez. "He was a religious man, with three young kids, a pastor. It was really hard -- why this guy? He was perfect."
After Trump's announcement Wednesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said he welcomes the order as a "step forward after eight years of failed immigration policies. There is no doubt our immigration system is broken. ... Locking down the border, deporting dangerous criminals, and penalizing countries who refuse to repatriate convicted felons sends a message that the United States respects and enforces the rule of law."
The State Department is reviewing the order and will work with DHS to "implement it immediately," acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
"National security is our top priority. Working closely with DHS, we will use all appropriate measures to facilitate the removal of aliens who are subject to a final order of removal," Toner said.
He went on to say that "stepped-up diplomatic efforts by ICE and the State Department have resulted in significant increases in cooperation among the 23 countries currently on ICE's Uncooperative ('Recalcitrant') list, with nearly half of these countries improving their records of issuing travel documents, accepting charter deportee flights with deportees, and agreeing on formal arrangements for future removals in recent months."