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Suspect in Pelosi attack was in the US illegally, officials say

The Canadian man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi with a hammer and trying to kidnap Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been living in the United States with an expired immigration status for years, officials at the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

David DePape, 42, who authorities say broke into the Pelosis’ home in San Francisco on Friday, entered the United States legally March 8, 2008, from Mexico through a port of entry in California, the department said. Typically, Canadian visitors who travel to the United States for work or pleasure are admitted for six months.

Prosecutors say DePape’s intent last week was to take the House speaker hostage, “to seriously harm her” and to make her an example to other members of Congress. He faces several state and federal charges, including attempted kidnapping, assaulting a relative of a federal official, attempted murder, elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon.

Nancy Pelosi was in Washington at the time of the assault.

The attack on Paul Pelosi, 82, who was discharged from a San Francisco hospital Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter, comes during a time of heightened politically motivated violence before the midterm elections next week. In recent years, there has been a surge in threats against political figures from both parties. Nancy Pelosi, the second in line to the presidency, has been one of the most targeted figures.

While some Republicans condemned the attack, others have spread baseless conspiracy theories about the assault and the attacker’s motives. They have added DePape’s immigration status to their list of criticisms of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

DePape’s immigration status was reported earlier by The Washington Post. The exact number of people in the United States who have overstayed the time they were permitted to be in the country is unknown; estimates range from hundreds of thousands to millions of people. Doing so is a civil offense.

When DePape was arrested Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told local law enforcement to notify the agency before releasing him from custody, as is typical in situations when people who are in the United States illegally are arrested on criminal charges. State prosecutors have asked the court not to release DePape on bail.

According to a 2020 Department of Homeland Security report, Canadians represented the second-largest group of people, after Mexicans, who stay in the country beyond the time they were authorized.

Historically, the United States has struggled to consistently document people who move into and out of the country via land routes — the method used most often by Canadians and Mexicans — compared to people who travel by air, said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a bipartisan Washington think tank.

While DePape’s expired immigration status would have meant he could not work legally in the country, he would not likely come to the attention of immigration authorities unless he were arrested, she said.

In recent years, DePape became homeless and spent his time absorbed in an online world of right-wing conspiracy theories. After the attack, he told police that he was tired of “lies” coming out of Washington and had planned to attack other prominent state and local politicians.

DePape has pleaded not guilty to several state felony charges. A court appearance for the federal charges against him has yet to be scheduled.

DePape’s public defender said a defense could include arguing that his client had a “vulnerability” to misinformation and conspiracy theories that have become part of U.S. politics. The defense is similar to one that several people charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol have used, but it has so far not proved to be a winning one.

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