My 16-year-old daughter, Tessa, was killed by an illegal immigrant in Virginia Beach three years ago while sitting at a stop light. Her friend Ali Kunhardt, 17, also perished instantly.

Beautiful girls with tons of future plans, they had just stopped at a convenience store for a pack of gum at 10 on a Friday night. I can imagine that they were giggling about something as they waited for the red light to turn green. Tessa was in the passenger seat. I’ll never forget her laugh.

The explosion was so loud that witnesses said it sounded like a bomb going off, hit from behind by a black Mitsubishi going more than 70 mph. They were tiny, skinny little girls stuffed somewhere in the floorboards when the police and EMT crew arrived.

When I got to the hospital in what seemed like a dream sequence, Tessa’s bed was lying next to Ali’s, separated by a privacy curtain. Both girls were perfectly still, skin cold to the touch.

Tess was covered with a hospital blanket, and her clothes lay in a bag by her bedside, cut off by the EMT and the ER doctor who tried to revive her, to no avail. I looked at her large brown eyes, pupils dilated, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. She still had a mask taped to her mouth with a long rubber tube. The center of the tube was filled with bright red blood. Amazingly, she had only a little bruise on her forehead, and her big toe was bleeding. I noticed that she had had a couple of her nails done with glitter, probably had just enough money to do two. She worked at the Golden Corral; Ali worked at The Fresh Market.

I hadn’t seen Tessa in a few days, and I had to laugh at her forearm. Hard to believe you can laugh with such horror around you, but I did. She had previously told me that she suffered from the “Tranchant curse” — dark hair on her skinny little perfect arms — and apparently she had shaved it all off (her way of getting even, I guess).

Alfredo Ramos, a previous DUI offender and alcoholic, seemed invisible in a system that was good at looking the other way. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake were being accused of being “sanctuary cities” as Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera screamed at each other during the national news hour. O’Reilly was right.

I know what sanctuary means more than most ever will.

Ramos was actually smug at the trial and took his lumps: 40 years in prison. There was nothing I could do but forgive him; forgiveness cleanses the soul. He was an uneducated foreigner patronized by local merchants who needed cheap labor.

Hundreds of thousands of illegals in Virginia do the same. We don’t share a border with Mexico, so the awareness here isn’t as great as Arizona or California.

But the dilemma in Arizona is more important to Virginians than it seems. Last Monday, Sister Denise Mosier was killed in Prince William County. An illegal immigrant from Bolivia with two previous drunken-driving convictions is charged with killing her and critically injuring two other nuns while driving drunk.

As with me, her friends say they have forgiven him and hold no grudges.

Later in the week, in response to this tragedy, the Secretary of Homeland Security said she would get to the bottom of why the illegals are not deported when they are repeat offenders.

Here's what I would like to tell the Secretary: Ms. Napolitano, ICE was not there in 2007 when my daughter and her friend died. And, though ICE picked up the man who hit Sister Mosier, he wasn’t kept in custody and was sent back out the streets.

This problem is not new.

We know it’s not the people but the system that fails Americans again and again. There have been hundreds of similar stories in America since Tess and Ali died.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez from Illinois reminded me personally in a Congressional hearing that the solution lies with a comprehensive plan that includes amnesty. After all, he said, “they pick your grapes, clean your hotels and are then victimized.” Luis should worry about protecting U.S. Hispanics and instead of counting on prospective Hispanic votes.

But waving a magic wand over 12 million people will not solve this immigration problem. It worries me that we would even consider giving foreigners legal rights to Social Security, health care and school in a time of $14 trillion dollar deficits.

Consider that when 12 million get citizenship, 10 million of their relatives will migrate legally. Of course citizenship will make them pay into the system, but the amount won’t be realized for many years.

I don’t believe the current system can process this many people and verify that some are not criminals or terrorists, let alone pay benefits to new Americans.

My advice: While securing the borders, America must somehow identify everyone, Americans and non-Americans, using a certifiable national system and without violating constitutional rights.

We do this every day with passports, fingerprints and national crime databases. Somehow, they all need to be part of a credible inter-related database so criminals can be deported or incarcerated (the first step toward a solution) and law-abiding citizens can be protected anywhere in America. Otherwise, people will not be punished or held accountable, and more mistakes, more deaths and injuries will occur.

On my trip home from visiting Rome, my passport was touched by nine officials, some carrying Uzis. I was not offended; it was the price I had to pay to see the Ancient City.

And I don’t feel violated when an official checks my driver’s license or passport here. It sure beats the funeral procession that I was a part of.

My great grandfather immigrated from France in 1915. He later went back home. He’d had enough. Poor working conditions in the coal mines here, everyone mading him speak English for safety reasons, his son and wife died, etc.

His only remaining son stayed and thought it was worth the effort. After working hard, that son — my grandfather, Romain Pierre — became a legal citizen.

I can still remember the old Frenchman’s laugh. He thought citizenship was worth the trouble.

I’m glad he did!

Ray Tranchant is a teacher at Cambridge College, Bryant and Stratton College, and an administrator with Tidewater Community College. He lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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