Suspected drophouse busted in Phoenix; 8 arrested
by Jordan Johnson - Sept. 28, 2009 06:12 PM
The Arizona Republic
A group of suspected human smugglers was arrested Saturday for allegedly holding illegal immigrants in a Phoenix drophouse, police said.
Investigators of the Illegal Immigration Apprehension Co-op Team and the Phoenix Police Department SWAT team were called to the scene when a man escaped the drophouse and notified Phoenix police of its location near the 9000 block of West Cambridge Avenue, according to a release issued Monday by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Eight people were arrested, and 17 illegal immigrants were rescued after being tortured and held for ransom, the release said.
According to the statement, "the victims were beaten with a mop handle" and "made to undress while the armed guards photographed them with their own cellphones threatening to send the photos to their families."
The smugglers were arrested on suspicion of felony counts that included human smuggling, armed robbery, weapons misconduct, kidnapping and aggravated assault, according to the release.
This was the second discovery of a drophouse by investigators in eight days. Another drop house was found on Sept. 18, when Glendale police arrested six human smugglers and release eight victims at the 5000 block of West Maryland Avenue, the release said.
Investigators at both scenes seized guns and cellphones from the alleged smugglers.
The team that dismantled the two drophouses included investigators from DPS, the Phoenix Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Suspected drophouse busted in Phoenix; 8 arrested
Men caught with 22 immigrants in Brownsville
By Sergio Chapa
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 6:02 p.m.
Two men remain behind bars after federal authorities allegedly caught them taking 22 illegal immigrants to a stash house in Brownsville.
U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents charged Edgar Villanueva-Sanchez and Apolinar Rocha-Morales with human smuggling charges on Monday.
Few details were available in the case but a criminal complaint revealed that the two men were caught transporting 22 illegal immigrants in a car.
Investigators wrote that the two men picked up the immigrants at the Rio Grande and were on their way to a stash house in Brownsville when they were arrested.
Villanueva-Sanchez and Rocha-Morales both appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan in Brownsville on Tuesday morning where they were denied bond.
Morgan ordered that two Honduran immigrants named Kevin Godin Ortega-Espinoza and Marlon Gerardo Ramirez-Mancia be held as witnesses in the cases.
40 arrested during crime sweep
by Adam Wolfe - Sept. 29, 2009 05:49 PM
The Arizona Republic
Forty people suspected of being illegal immigrants were arrested during a four-hour crime sweep in the north Valley, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies conducted sweeps in four areas near Anthem Way on Monday night, according to a news release from the Sheriff's Office.
Twenty-five of those arrested face human-smuggling charges, officials said; the others were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Deportation order tears family apart
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
It is easy for some to disavow his humanity and tell the illegal immigrant to go home.
It must have been easy, family members contend, for Kathy Leandro’s former boyfriend and father of her 7-year-old daughter, to turn in Kathy’s husband, Fabrizio Leandro, father of her 18-month-old daughter and illegal immigrant.
But in a world that grows smaller every day, it is getting increasingly difficult to escape a simple truth — without compassion and fairness, the laws of a nation can be like a cancerous growth that silently eats away at its soul.
Karyn Wigren, Kathy’s mother and a Worcester resident, understands that now.
Ms. Wigren, her husband, Ms. Leandro and Ms. Leandro’s three siblings are representative of the hard-working American family. They live by the sweat of their brows and support their community by volunteering time and effort to various causes, such as running a baseball league for 16- to 18-year-olds.
Before the Leandros’ marriage and the subsequent arrest of Mr. Leandro, illegal immigration was never a dinner-table topic in the Wigren household.
Now it is consuming their lives.
In fact, Ms. Wigren is now a big advocate of immigration reform.
“We are about to say goodbye to someone who means the world to my daughter and his child,” she said.
“He is a phenomenal human being and we may not see him again for 10 years, if ever. It is tearing my family apart.”
Ms. Wigren is not asking any special favors of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. What irks her is the organization’s seeming disregard for the rights she believes illegal immigrants have under the American Constitution.
The family knew Mr. Leandro had entered the country illegally and that to gain legal status he would have to return to Brazil and file for re-entry into the United States.
Generally, an illegal immigrant who is deported is barred from returning to the United States for 10 years, but because Mr. Leandro is married to Ms. Leandro, he was eligible for a waiver that could potentially have him returning in 2-1/2 years.
But Ms. Leandro and her family are beginning to understand it doesn’t matter how well they stick to the script.
Mr. Leandro’s fate now rests on the discretion of ICE and the Brazilian government, and so far there is little to be hopeful about.
The family was lucky to have obtained an attorney when Mr. Leandro was arrested.
Had they not done so, he could have ended up in any of a number of ICE holding cells around the country and without the ability to contact family members.
Then, just two weeks before he is to leave the country, ICE told them they had lost Mr. Leandro’s file, including his passport.
They suggested the family contact the Brazilian consulate, which needed the original records confirming his Brazilian nationality in order to issue him travel documents.
Of course, all his official papers were in his lost ICE file.
Late yesterday, ICE called to say they had found Mr. Leandro’s passport, but the call raised more questions than answers.
Meanwhile, Ms. Leandro has moved back in with her mother, as she struggles financially to raise her children and the money — she estimates it will cost over $10,000 — to complete the process she hopes will bring her husband home to her and his child.
As part of the waiver process, she has to prove that it wouldn’t be easier for her to move to Brazil with her children.
“I can’t be with someone I love because they didn’t come here legally,” she said.
“I understand that, but I just don’t feel we have a chance to make things right.
“If I have to take my kids to Brazil and live there, I will.”
Ms. Wigren would like to console her daughter, to tell her a process is in place to bring about a good resolution.
But after what she has seen of the system so far, she has a sinking feeling that the battle has been lost and she feels for her daughter.
“She didn’t commit a crime,” Ms. Wigren said. “She married a man she loves.”
From Staff Reports
Published: September 30, 2009 08:34 am
• J. Jesus Lemos-Jaime, 43, of Olney, was arrested Saturday on an Immigration and Customs Enforcment hold.
• Javier Flores Solorio, 21, of Wenatchee, Wash., was arrested Saturday on an ICE hold.
• Zeferino Ibarra Reyna, 42, of Fort Worth, was arrested Monday on an ICE hold.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wreck on causeway nets six illegal South American immigrants
BY J.R. ORTEGA
Originally published September 16, 2009 at 7:06 p.m.
Updated September 16, 2009 at 11:20 p.m.
PORT LAVACA - A traffic stop turned high-speed chase down state Highway 35 and over the Lavaca Bay causeway ended in a bail out of more than 10 suspected illegal immigrants Wednesday afternoon.
The chase began as a traffic stop at the intersection of Half League Street and state Highway 35, Police Chief John Stewart said.
The white Ford van increased in speed going north on state Highway 35 and rear-ended a vehicle on the causeway. It also eventually rear-ended Officer Stephen Stroud's patrol vehicle, Stewart said.
People then began jumping out of the van, Stewart said.
At one point, the van was recorded traveling more than 80 mph in a 40 mph zone, Stewart added.
The condition of two women in the first vehicle stuck was unknown, Stewart said.
Stroud was taken to Memorial Medical Center for observation and was later released, the chief said.
"The officer had no idea all these people were in there," Stewart said.
At least six of the suspected illegal immigrants were caught and taken into custody. The rest got lost in the brush, he said.
"They all appear to be South American," Stewart said. "We're calling immigration to come in."
Several of those apprehended sustained injuries as a result of the wrecks, Stewart said.
Though the search was called off, the police department, Calhoun County Sheriff's Office and a Department of Public Safety helicopter continued searching the area Wednesday afternoon.
Four Illegal Immigrants Taken Into Custody Following I-80 Stop
September 17th, 2009
Steven McDole, correspondent
COOPER TOWNSHIP - Four illegal alians were detained following a traffic stop on Interstate 80 early Thursday morning.
According to state police in Clearfield, four Mexicans, ranging from 16 to 24-years-old were encountered during a routine traffic stop on I-80 at 4:15 a.m. When askedd the four were unable to provide sufficient evidence that they were in the United States legally. Officials of the United States Border Patrol were contacted and it was confirmed the four were in the U.S. unlawfully.
The Clearfield State Police turned the four over to Border Patrol officials.
Two arrested for unlawful entry into U.S.
POSTED: September 21, 2009
Two men who entered the United States illegally were arrested in Minot Saturday afternoon following a traffic stop.
A Minot Police Department officer stopped a vehicle on South Broadway operated by Phillip Mahoney, Minot, for driving with expired registration. After interviewing two passengers in the Mahoney vehicle, Adelberto and Jose Robles Gonzalez, both of Jalisco, Mexico, it was suspected the men may have been in the U.S. unlawfully.
The U.S. Border Patrol was contacted and confirmed that the men were illegal aliens. Both were detained and transported to the Ward County jail on immigration violation charges.
Antioch man could face deportation following traffic stop in Franklin
September 22, 2009
FRANKLIN — A traffic stop could lead to the deportation of a man accused of being in the country illegally.
Juan Carlos Garcia, 33, who lives in Antioch, was stopped for speeding on Cool Springs Boulevard near Windcross Court on Sunday morning, according to police. Garcia was clocked traveling 55 mph in a 45 mph zone.
A police officer determined that Garcia's license was suspended for failing to satisfy a previous traffic violation. A computer check revealed that Garcia was wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a deportation warrant.
Garcia faces charges of driving on a suspended license and speeding. He is being held at the Williamson County jail for federal agents.
Illegal immigrant fights S.F. drug charge
By: Brent Begin
Examiner Staff Writer
September 25, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — The fate of a 23-year-old Honduran man who crossed the U.S. border illegally with the help of smugglers only to be arrested weeks later in a Tenderloin drug sting is now in the hands of a jury.
The case pits the issues of human trafficking versus illegal immigrants who commit crimes in San Francisco, a sanctuary city.
Police arrested Rigoberto Valle, 23, in an undercover “buy-bust” operation at Larkin Street and Golden Gate Avenue on June 4.
Plainclothes officers gave Valle $20 and he spit out two rocks of crack cocaine in return, according to the charges.
Valle, who listened to the trial through an interpreter, claims he was the victim of human trafficking and was forced to sell drugs in order to pay a $500 debt to a smuggler. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Hadi Razzaq told the jury on Thursday that the smuggler, also known as a “coyote,” put a knife to Valle’s throat, forcing him to sell drugs.
This happened after an arduous desert journey from Mexico to Nogales, Ariz., in which his family member paid a $1,500 fee. His trip to San Francisco would cost him another $500, which he couldn’t pay.
But prosecutors say the trafficking defense is just a way to avoid a prison sentence. If the jury believes his story, it could spark a defense that could potentially allow illegal immigrants to deal drugs with impunity.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Hechler, in his closing statement, said Valle’s story is unbelievable because he always had a chance to escape.
“He could have run. He should have run. He didn’t run,” Hechler said.
Valle could still be deported whether he is guilty or not because authorities believe he is in the country illegally. An immigration hold was placed on him when he was arrested for a suspected drug crime.
It is not uncommon to have instances where an immigrant is blackmailed into dealing drugs to pay off coyotes, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.
“What is unusual is one of these cases proceeding to trial,” Adachi said. “It takes a lot of courage to come forward and tell what happened, and many times there is a fear of retribution.”
The jury began deliberating the case Thursday afternoon.
Thai family wins citizenship after decades quest
The Associated Press
Updated: 09/25/2009 11:36:30 AM PDT
LOS ANGELES—A Thai family threatened with deportation over a 1975 divorce certificate has completed their quest to become American citizens.
Pai Ciesiolka and her two adult sons took their oath of naturalization Friday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena among a crowd of 2,300 new citizens.
The family obtained green cards in the 1970s after Ciesiolka married an American citizen.
But when they applied to naturalize, U.S. immigration authorities refused to recognize a 1975 divorce certificate that Ciesiolka obtained from a Thai consulate to end her first marriage, and alleged she was married to two men at once.
The government threatened to deport the family, but eventually approved their citizenship applications after pressure from attorneys and an Associated Press story in May.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Students warned to prove Texas residence or leave
DEL RIO, Texas — Students living in northern Mexico have skirted residency requirements to attend U.S. public schools for generations, but when the superintendent in one Texas border town got word that about 400 school-age children were crossing the international bridge each day with backpacks but no student visas, he figured he had to do something.
The community is connected by a bridge to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, and like most border cities, the towns operate in tandem, with U.S. citizens and green cardholders living, working and shopping on both sides. All of it is legal, but public school attendance by children living in Mexico is another issue.
“We had several van loads (with Mexican license plates) pulling up at the schools and kids getting out. It’s like ’C’mon, it’s obvious what’s going on,’” said Kelt Cooper, superintendent of the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District.
He directed district officials to stake out the bridge and warn students they could face expulsion if they don’t prove they live in the district — a move that’s brought complaints from civil rights groups and support from anti-immigrant proponents.
“We have a law. We have a policy. We follow it,” said Cooper, whose spent most of his life near the border and is uncomfortable with attempts to make him a cause celebre for either side of the immigration debate. “I’m just doing my job.”
Like parents elsewhere who send their children to a better school across town, some parents living in northern Mexico send their children to American public schools believing they are safer and offer better education. Many also hope a U.S. education will provide better access to American colleges and universities.
Immigration status isn’t an issue in these cases. A decades-old Supreme Court ruling prevents school officials from even asking about citizenship. Regardless, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, students who use the bridge enter the U.S. legally because they are U.S. citizens, permanent residents with green cards or Mexicans with student visas. Those visas are used by Mexican students who pay tuition, primarily at parochial schools.
But for tuition-free public school attendance, state law requires students to live in the district — a rule that many officials don’t rigidly enforce. Some are uncomfortable with following the letter of the law because doing so could deny U.S. citizen children access to public schools. Also, turning away students cost the districts money.
Texas schools get funding for each student. Statewide, it works out to about $9,400 per student, primarily from local property taxes and state supplements designed to balance rich and poor school districts. Additional grants from the federal government for low-income and special education students account for about $920 per student. Cooper estimates his district of 10,000 students would lose $2.7 million if 400 students were expelled.
At the start of this school year, Cooper’s district asked that Border Patrol agents count students crossing the bridge one weekday. Agency spokesman Rick Pauza said 550 students crossed, about 150 of them had student visas. The rest, Cooper said, are probably attending one of his schools.
School officials staking out the bridge handed out letters that warned parents they would be required to show proof they lived in the district. Within a few days, most parents offered documentation, meaning their children won’t be expelled.
South Elgin man charged with felony ID theft
September 23, 2009
By KATIE ANDERSON
SOUTH ELGIN — A South Elgin man suspected of living in the United States illegally has been charged with felony identity theft, authorities said.
Vicente Zaragoza, 43, of the 700 block of Michigan Avenue, was arrested Monday. He is accused of using another person's Social Security number to obtain work at a South Elgin business and later collected unemployment using the stolen number, South Elgin Police Detective Mike Doty said.
Using the stolen Social Security number, Zaragoza reportedly made a little more than $119,000 in earnings from September 2003 through February 2007.
The woman whose Social Security number Zaragoza was using discovered the theft of her identity after she tried to obtain public aid, according to police.
"She found out that someone was using her Social Security number for work or unemployment services," Doty said, "and she was unable to get (aide) initially based on the fact that someone had been getting paid."
If convicted on the Class 1 felony charge of financial identity theft, Zaragoza faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. It is also "a possibility Zaragoza will face deportation charges," Sgt. Doty said.
Kane County Judge John A. Noverini set Zaragoza's bail at $50,000 Tuesday. Zaragoza is to appear in court again Oct. 2 in the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles.
Doty said his department has noticed that a number of cases of illegal immigrants purchasing stolen Social Security numbers and permanent resident cards. He said there are locations in Elgin and Chicago where the documents can be purchased for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000.
Felony arrests [4th item]
September 24, 2009
- Forgery —Carlos Camacho-Olozagaste, 32, of the 100 block of Elm Street, Medford. A Jackson County sheriff's deputy Wednesday arrested Camacho-Olozagaste on two counts of first-degree forgery. In addition, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charged him with suspicion of being in the country illegally. He was lodged in jail without bail.
Off-duty officer arrests fleeing suspect
Updated: Sep 24, 2009 11:38 AM EDT
Indianapolis - An off-duty IMPD officer arrested a handcuffed suspect who ran from immigration authorities.
The suspect was caught Thursday morning near the Statehouse. Officer Josue Escalante was working off-duty at a downtown hotel when he heard a radio call about a fleeing suspect.
The officer spotted the suspect walking on a street, but didn't see the handcuffs.
Escalante said it "wasn't unusual cause he had them tucked away under a shirt, didn't look like he had any chains on, because his shirt was kind of long and he had his hands to his side, and that's the same description they gave when we saw him on the cameras before the cameras went down. You couldn't see the chains at all. The description was very good."
No word on the identity of the suspect or why he was running from authorities.
Illegal alien charged with stealing ID
HARRISBURG, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009 -- A man from Mexico arrested in June in eastern Adams County has been charged with being in the country illegally.
Known only as Juan Castro and with an unknown age, the man was indicted today on charges of making a false claim to U.S. citizenship and aggravated identity theft. He faces life imprisonment and fines up to $750,000.
When Eastern Adams Regional Police stopped him for driving offenses, Castro told them he had been born in California, according to the U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Castro later admitted to Immigration and Custom Enforcement detention agents that he was not a U.S. citizen. He spoke through an Spanish-speaking officer at the Adams County Detention Center.
Castro allegedly had been using the stolen identity to obtain various forms of identification, including a Pennsylvania driver's license, according to the U.S. Attorney.
Older now, but still living on the edge in Boston
By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
September 23, 2009
They form a distinct community within the Irish diaspora, American branch: aged between 30 and 45, employed, tax-paying, and usually resident in the U.S. for eight years or more.
Of course, they also share one other trait: they are undocumented.
And that means that they're a heartbeat away from being torn from their home, family, workplace and community, placed in shackles and hustled onto a plane back to Ireland.
For the "forgotten Irish" remain in a limbo of uncertainty, waiting anxiously for comprehensive immigration reform while they go about their far-from-normal lives.
And for five of their number - two from Kerry, two from Donegal, and one from Belfast - who gathered round a suburban kitchen outside of Boston recently, the strain of a life in the shadows is evident.
"There's a bad vibe out there about illegals and while we're not illegal (the Irish are classified as undocumented or out of status because their initial entry to the U.S. was legal) there's always the fear that suddenly you will be reported to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and you will end up being put out of the country," said Gemma (34).
"It could be as simple as falling out with a neighbor or being stopped at a traffic accident."
The majority of the undocumented Irish - whose numbers variously are estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 - entered the U.S. on 90-day visas and then overstayed.
If they leave the U.S. now to go back to Ireland, they will not be allowed back.
During the Celtic Tiger boom, substantial numbers decided to return to Ireland but today, with the Irish economy in turmoil, most wish to stay on - until, that is, they face a grave family crisis.
"No one can predict what another person will do when the call comes to say that your father has died or that your mother has been taken into hospital," says Donegal-born Jim.
"That is our worst nightmare because no-one wants their last goodbye to be over a phone. But you do know that if you decide to leave, you are saying goodbye to your friends and family and everything you have built up in America because you're not coming back."
Kieran O'Sullivan, a counselor with the Irish Pastoral Center in Quincy, says the undocumented live under constant pressure. "I am dealing with one woman who is being harassed by her employer but is afraid to go to the police in case she ends up being arrested," he says.
"I know of another woman who was followed in Quincy but likewise doesn't want to go to the police. Last week, I met a young mother in South Boston whose father won't let her take her two-year-old child home to Ireland so she is caught in a dreadful predicament. And I also meet the depressed and the vulnerable who slide into addiction and alcoholism because of their status. It's very tragic. All I can do is listen."
Last year, a young undocumented man died rather than present himself to hospital because he was afraid he would be reported to the authorities, while in recent months, at least two undocumented men have taken their own lives.
Since the undocumented can't draw welfare payments of any kind, they are all in employment.
"We consider that we are contributing to this country," says Janine (33), a nanny who has been in the U.S. since 1997.
"But we know that the whole world changed after 9/11, that so-called illegals are all too often equated with terrorists and that there's a belief that in tough economic times, the undocumented are pushing American citizens onto the unemployment lines."
Previous generations of immigrants, even those who entered the U.S. without papers, won green cards and citizenship through the Donnelly and Morrison visa programs but for those who came into the U.S. from the mid nineties on, there has been no such escape valve.
"We were in our twenties, fleeing an Ireland without jobs, and probably didn't understand the consequences of what we were doing when we decided to overstay our I-90 Visa," says Jim (37). "But now we're in our thirties with a lot to lose."
If he comes to the attention of ICE, Jim can expect to be sent back to Ireland, leaving behind his wife - who holds a green card - and daughter.
Fr. John McCarthy of the Irish Pastoral Center, which provides counsel and support for the undocumented, says public representatives in Ireland could do more to resolve "the most crucial issue facing Irish America."
"The new J-1 Visas, aimed at graduates, will not help those already here or stem the flow of new immigrants because the majority of them don't have degrees," he said.
"The undocumented are Irish citizens and the Irish government should be doing more but the reality is that the only people representing the undocumented are Irish Americans.
There has been a history of immigration from Ireland to the U.S. for 150 years and that has created a special bond which should make a resolution of this issue possible.
"I have spoken to Irish American politicians in D.C. who are in favor of a solution but we need to throw more weight behind their efforts and the Irish government needs to push the U.S. government in the right direction."
Kieran O'Sullivan believes the Irish community didn't work hard enough during the McCain/Kennedy immigration reform initiative.
"I was in offices in D.C. where staffers were striking off the number of calls for and against," he said, "and more calls were coming in against than for.
If President Obama comes forward with immigration reform proposals, we going to have to put our shoulder to the wheel to make the calls. We hear the Irish politicians say they're doing their best, but most of the undocumented feel they are forgotten about."
As they wait for more action from politicians from across Ireland - the forgotten Irish, of course, hail from all 32 counties - and for Washington's reform proposals, the undocumented are determined to fight their corner.
The latest in a series of town hall meetings will take place in Bad Abbots in Quincy at 8 p.m. on October 6.
"We're a living bridge with Ireland," says Gemma. "And resolving our status will mean we can make as big a contribution to Ireland in the years ahead as we will make to the United States."
Immigration warrant leads to arrest of Lehigh Acres man in Cape Coral
September 23, 2009
Cape Coral Police arrested a man Tuesday who they say was wanted by United States Immigrations.
A police report stated that after Marvin Briones Castellon, 30, of Lehigh Acres, was pulled over Tuesday night, a check through police dispatch revealed that he possessed an unconfirmed warrant through the United States Immigrations for failure to appear to court for illegally entering into the country through Texas from Mexico.
After the officer asked Castellon more about his identity, he was placed under arrest for an active warrant pertaining to an order of deportation or removal from the United States, according to the police report.
Special Visas Help Abused Illegal Immigrants
Government Approves Thousands Of Special Visas To Help Abused Illegal Immigrants
OAKLAND, Calif., Sep. 23, 2009
For years, Laura Teresa Leon Sanchez says, she was beaten, raped and robbed by her boyfriend. If she tried to leave, he threatened to have her deported.
"I was a ghost. I was nothing," said the Mexico City native who was living in the United States illegally. "He would say, 'I'll call immigration, and just like this, you'll be gone.'"
Sanchez eventually got help from authorities _ along with a special visa offered by the government to encourage illegal immigrants to report violent crime.
Created in 2000, the "U" visa program was on hold until rules for its implementation were adopted in 2007. Now the government is approving thousands of requests.
Records from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service show that 4,400 visas were issued this fiscal year _ up from just 52 last year.
The effort is consistent with the new priorities of federal immigration agencies under the Obama administration.
"It's certainly a sea change," said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center in Washington. "The sensitivity toward people who through no fault of their own are in dire straights is enhanced now."
About 13,000 applications are still pending. Half of those are awaiting more information from the applicant, and half are in a backlog that immigration officials are pushing to resolve.
Some immigrants never apply because they fear police or worry that they might end up in deportation proceedings.
"There's nothing worse than knowing someone is exposed to violence, and to hear them say they don't want to live with that violence, but they're too afraid to speak out," said Nancy O'Malley, district attorney for Alameda County, which includes much of San Francisco Bay.
"We've seen too many immigrant women who have either acquiesced or stayed silence because they're afraid to go to the government because of their status."
In January, the immigration agency's ombudsman expressed concern about processing delays. In response, the agency added staff, reorganized the work and picked up the pace.
Immigration officials have also reached out to law enforcement, attorneys and advocates to spread the word about the program.
"This is a vulnerable population," said Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. "And if they're eligible for this protection, and they've worked with law enforcement, we're doing everything that we can to make sure they get this protection."
Immigrants benefiting from the program include hundreds of women alleging rape, female genital mutilation and sex trafficking. But government records show the overwhelming majority _ upward of 4,000 cases _ are domestic violence victims.
Before a U visa is approved, police, prosecutors or a judge must certify that the applicant has cooperated in arresting or prosecuting the alleged attacker. Immigrants may do so without fearing deportation.
"It's a good thing for the community and a good thing for the police. "We're all on the same side," said Oakland police Lt. Kevin Wiley, commander of special victims unit. He has certified 171 visa applications since November 2007.
But immigration advocates say law enforcement agencies across the country have wide-ranging standards for what constitutes cooperation, meaning the process is easier for some immigrants than others.
"It's very frustrating, the inequity of it," said Kimberly Baker Medina, an immigration attorney in Fort Collins, Colo., who says she has struggled to get applications certified by law enforcement.
A woman alleging domestic abuse 35 miles outside Orlando, Fla., illustrates why some immigrants might hesitate to contact authorities.
Sonia Enriquez Perdomo called Tavares, Fla., police to report her boyfriend had tried to choke her. But it was Perdomo's undocumented sister, not her abusive boyfriend, who was detained.
According to court papers, when police checked the identification of everyone in the house, they learned the victim's sister, Rita Cote, had been brought across the border illegally by her family when she was 15.
Tavares Police Capt. Danny Feleccia said officers followed standard procedure by checking identification and used their own judgment in concluding that the domestic abuse complaint was unreliable.
"The officers did what they were supposed to do," Feleccia said.
The American Civil Liberties Union won Cote's conditional release, and a temporary stay of deportation.
Back in Oakland, fear of deportation kept Sanchez from calling police on her abusive boyfriend until November 2007, when she stumbled out of her house, beaten and barely able to walk.
She came upon police officers and told them everything: The man she met at church four years earlier had hit her with a belt, kicked her and dragged her by the hair. She was bleeding internally.
Her boyfriend was arrested. She took out a restraining order, but he came back to harass her. She continued to work with police.
Her visa now in hand, she is rebuilding her life by cleaning houses and paying for the education of her high-school and college-aged daughters in Mexico City.
The attorney who handled Sanchez' case said getting the visa transforms her clients.
"They go from being hopeless, marginalized, isolated, defeated, to being on the road up, with all the resources that you need," said Susan Bowyer, managing attorney at the International Institute of the East Bay, a nonprofit organization that has submitted more than 500 applications, and gotten 190 approved so far.
Still, the number of visas granted remains several thousand below the 10,000 allowed per year under the law. Immigrant advocates say the program is still plagued by delays _ and thousands of victims are waiting.
Applicants can wait more than a year to hear if they will get a visa, said Julie Dinnerstein, a New York-based immigration attorney who has had 153 cases pending for more than a year.
In the meantime, many applicants find themselves isolated and unable to work.
In Raleigh, N.C., Bertille Boutamba is having a hard time supporting herself and her two American-born children since leaving her abusive husband.
Boutamba, 35, is originally from the west African nation of Gabon. She spoke repeatedly to police and prosecutors, and she's been waiting for her visa request since July 2008. The struggle to provide for her family leaves her dependent on friends from church.
"I feel ashamed each time I'm sitting at the church," Boutamba said through tears. "I can't even look people in the face because of my situation."
4 Illegal Immigrants from China Arrested
Updated: Wednesday, 23 Sep 2009, 9:07 PM MDT
Published : Wednesday, 23 Sep 2009, 9:07 PM MDT
PHOENIX - In a traffic stop in the north valley Tuesday night, Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies arrested five illegal aliens, four of whom were from the communist country of China.
Through interpreters, the Chinese suspects told deputies they came from a province in China and boarded a plane in Beijing. The suspects were also in possession of Cuban currency.
The driver of the vehicle, who was from Mexico City, admitted to MCSO he was paid to illegal transport the four Chinese suspects to Flagstaff. From there, they were supposed to continue on to New York.
The people appeared to have been well-coached on what to tell deputies during questioning.
Agents who shot at speeding van felt threatened, officials say
By Leslie Berestein
Union-Tribune Staff Writer
8:23 p.m. September 23, 2009
SAN YSIDRO — The daring daytime smuggling attempt that incited three federal agents to start shooting, shutting down the San Ysidro border crossing Tuesday afternoon, was brazen but not unheard of.
Human and drug smugglers have long attempted the dangerous practice of running the ports of entry, sometimes premeditated, others in a fit of panic after they arouse suspicion.
The protocol is for officers to fire their weapons if they feel their lives are in danger, said Harold Washington, president of the union representing U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in San Diego.
“It is a lifesaving function,” Washington said. “You do that when your life is in danger, you have been threatened.”
San Diego police, who are investigating the shooting, said agents fired when one of the smugglers drove a van toward them.
“They feared for their safety,” Lt. Kevin Rooney said.
Last month at San Ysidro, a van loaded with 42 people ran the border into the United States through the southbound lanes in the early-morning hours, said Angelica De Cima, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The vehicle was spotted on Interstate 905 and eventually pulled over after the Border Patrol and California Highway Patrol responded, De Cima said.
The San Ysidro port of entry is equipped with tire shredders and other vehicle-stopping devices, intended to stop anyone who barges through.
And while the likelihood is they won't make it, some do. In late 2006, a van loaded with drugs that got through at San Ysidro was later found abandoned.
Shots have also been fired at the port of entry, sometimes fatally. In May 2006, one driver was shot and killed as he tried to drive a vehicle loaded with illegal immigrants back into Mexico.
Preliminary reports indicate that on Tuesday, the shots were fired by two Customs and Border Protection officers and one U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
Four people were injured, two by gunfire, including an innocent border crosser.
Those critical of the incident pointed out the danger to nearby motorists waiting in line.
“The results of such a violent reaction from federal agents could have been a lot worse,” said Adriana Jasso of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-affiliated human rights group that has issued a statement condemning the shooting.
The incident occurred about 3:30 p.m., when commuters and students who live in Tijuana are starting to head back south, Jasso said.
In a border-running scenario, “if you do not have time to escape, you have to defend yourself,” said Washington, of the National Treasury Employees Union Local 105.
He said the idea is “to stop them right there, to prevent them from doing any harm to innocent bystanders or other officers. They can do all kinds of damage.”
This could be anything from a dangerous traffic chase to an act of terrorism, he said. Some who try to evade port authorities have turned violent, including a 74-year-old man in the late 1990s who opened fire on customs officers in Calexico while trying to smuggle marijuana. Two officers were wounded before the man was shot dead.
Tuesday's shootings occurred after a customs agent stepped into his booth to check the license of the first van. All three drivers stormed the border together and tried to find open lanes that would lead to Interstate 5 or Interstate 805, police Lt. Rooney said.
The vans ended up stuck in traffic and two of them backed up to find other avenues of escape. The three federal officers opened fire when the driver of one of the vans drove toward them, Rooney said.
Two people were hit by gunfire, including a 31-year-old man who was driving the van and a 42-year-old male passenger.
The driver of that van continued to a lane on the west side of the port, where he crashed into a pickup, injuring a 30-year-old passenger in the truck.
Another passenger in the van, a 37-year-old man, suffered a head injury and cuts as a result of the crash, police said.
Two people were arrested in connection with the smuggling attempt, a U.S. citizen and a Mexican citizen. A third man, now in the hospital, will be arrested Thursday, said Lauren Mack, an ICE spokeswoman.
A total of 79 people were taken into custody; some passengers will be held as material witnesses, Mack said.
The driver of one of the vans, arrested by Mexican authorities after the van was observed returning to Mexico, was a minor, and a Mexican citizen, De Cima said.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Girl Faces Deportation Over Vaccine
Published on September 12, 2009
by OfficialWire NewsDesk
An adopted teen who has lived in Port St. Joe, Fla. since she was 3 faces possible deportation to England for refusing a vaccination, she and her mother say.
Simone Davis, 17, said she has no need for the vaccine Gardasil, which guards against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus virus, because she is not sexually active, ABC News reported.
But the U.S. government requires female immigrants between the ages of 11 and 26 to receive Gardasil shots before they can become citizens.
Simone was abandoned as a baby in England and adopted at 3 by her paternal grandmother, Jean Davis, who married an American and moved to Port St. Joe, Fla.
Jean Davis started applying for citizenship for Simone nearly 10 years ago, ABC said.
As a devout Christian who has taken a virginity pledge, Simone argues she is in no danger of getting cervical cancer and sees no reason to get the vaccine. American-born girls are encouraged, but not required, to get the vaccine.
Simone and Jean Davis sought a waiver on moral and religious grounds, but were turned down. They have 30 days to appeal the ruling. Without citizenship, Simone can be sent back to England, ABC said.
"I kind of feel like they may be experimenting with immigrants to see how we will react and then give the vaccine to citizens," Simone said. "If it is such a great vaccine, why isn't it mandatory for everyone?"
Human-trafficking charges filed
LAFAYETTE — Prosecutors have filed human- trafficking charges against a driver after an Indiana state trooper found 12 people in his sport utility vehicle near Lafayette.
Tippecanoe County prosecutors filed the felony charges against a 31-year-old driver from Mexico after a Sept. 3 stop on Interstate 65. Authorities say an 11-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl were among those in the five-passenger SUV, with one child sitting on the floor under another passengers’ legs.
Police say all the passengers admitted to being in the United States illegally and that they were apparently being taken to Chicago.
County Prosecutor Pat Harrington said federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents gave the passengers dates to appear for deportation hearings.
Cracks in citizenship process result in man's deportation to a country he's never known (The Monitor)
Cracks in citizenship process result in man's deportation to a country he's never known
It's easy to make life-altering mistakes in complicated immigration system, attorneys say
September 12, 2009 7:16 PM
REYNOSA — It wasn’t until the third grade that Robin Whiteley realized something separated him from the rest of his family.
Classmates at his East Texas elementary school began taunting him about his brown skin — several shades darker than that of his fair-skinned siblings.
“They called me a Mexican,” he said. “It was the first time I had heard that in my life. I remember going home and asking my mom, ‘What’s a Mexican?’”
Now, 35 years old and a bear of a man, the question still plagues him.
Adopted by an American family the day after his birth in Ciudad Juarez, Chih., Whiteley has only been to Mexico on short trips to Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey. He doesn’t speak the language. He doesn’t know anyone there.
But according to the U.S. government, he remains to this day a Mexican national with no legal right to be in the United States.
A 2000 arrest on drug possession charges set off a nightmare scenario that landed him first in prison, then in deportation proceedings and eventually in a country he has never known.
Now separated from his friends, his parents and his children, Whiteley is one of several people each year who find themselves lost in the byzantine U.S. immigration system — a maze of complicated, overlapping laws that leave no easy recourse once mistakes are made.
From U.S. citizens accidentally deported and barred from re-entering the country to people like Whiteley, who have lived their whole lives knowing no other home, it’s easy to make fateful and disastrous decisions that can complicate their lives for years.
“The immigration laws in this country are too complex,” said Jodi Goodwin, a Harlingen-based immigration attorney. “If they were more user-friendly, more people would be able to figure them out and avoid mistakes that can ruin their chances forever.”
‘MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY’
Reynosa’s main plaza — less than a mile from the international bridge — is a bustling estuary where people from all walks of city life cross paths.
Sharply dressed bureaucrats pace purposefully past beggars and street vendors during working hours, while police and drug gangs prowl the concrete square once night falls.
Whiteley washed up here after his most recent deportation and, for the past three months, has called this crowded heart of the city his home.
By day, he begs for whatever food he can muster and bathes under a nearby water spigot. Without any proof of Mexican citizenship, he can’t legally find a job. And without a valid birth certificate from that country, he can’t prove citizenship there.
“I’m literally a man without a country,” he said.
He spends his nights sleeping on a park bench and obsessively poring over a folder filled with documents spelling out his life in the United States.
A U.S. birth certificate drafted as part of his adoption process, copies of his Texas driver’s license and Social Security card, a diploma from his elementary school graduation — all evidence, he says, that he has a legitimate claim to citizenship.
But with a prison history behind him and a body covered in tattoos to show for it, people typically stop listening to his story when they realize he has a criminal past.
“In the end, this was my fault,” he said. “I should have pushed through earlier and gotten my citizenship. I committed a crime, and I paid that price.
“But now, I feel like I’m still being punished.”
‘I ASSUMED WRONG’
So how did things go so wrong?
Lora Whiteley adopted the child she would eventually name Robin on Jan. 14, 1974, from an El Paso-based midwife who had delivered him a day before. While state adoption records listed his birthplace as Ciudad Juarez — across the Rio Grande from the West Texas city — Lora claims the government based that determination on her own statements rather than any outside knowledge.
“If a midwife delivered the baby, I had just assumed that meant it was born in Mexico,” she said. “I could have assumed wrong.”
To this date, she has no idea exactly where or to whom her adopted son was born.
The family — then living in Fort Worth — first attempted to file for Robin Whiteley’s citizenship in 1987 but found the system complicated and cumbersome. Immigration authorities would advise them to file one form, only to turn around and tell them that it was the wrong one and they needed to fill out another.
Because of their modest means, hiring an attorney to guide them through the process was out of the question.
“We tried to do what we could,” Robin Whiteley said. “But every time my mom would do something, they would turn around and tell her to do something else.”
So when President Ronald Reagan’s administration implemented an amnesty program for illegal immigrants in the late ‘80s, they decided that route might provide an easier path.
“I got my green card and legal residency,” Robin Whiteley said. “After that, nothing was ever said about it. I went through life and grew up just like anybody else.”
It wasn’t until his arrest for marijuana possession in 2000 outside of Lufkin that the issue reared its head again. Two months into his prison stint, the government told him his visa had been revoked and he would be deported upon his release.
Less than two years later, he was on a bus to the border — headed back to a birthplace he had only known on paper.
“I had always thought of myself as a U.S. citizen,” he said. “I just didn’t realize they could just take away your stuff like that.”
It happens more frequently than he imagined.
‘NOT AN ISOLATED INSTANCE’
Since the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States has tightened security along the nation’s southern border in a drive to crack down on illegal immigration.
The government has mistakenly locked up, deported or denied entry to dozens of lawful U.S. citizens based on mere suspicion. In 2007, the nonprofit Vera Institute for Justice found 322 people with claims to citizenship detained in 13 of the nation’s immigration prisons.
Many of those cases involve people with clearer-cut cases than Robin Whiteley’s.
In March 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents confiscated the passport, Social Security card and Texas driver’s license of Ricardo Martinez as he tried to enter the United States near Laredo.
Although he was born in 1973 at McAllen General Hospital and had the records to prove it, federal authorities questioned him for hours and threatened him with prison time until he signed a confession saying he was born in a tiny community in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.
“Scared of the threats and believing he had no other option, Mr. Martinez signed the papers,” his attorney Lisa Brodyaga said in a lawsuit Martinez’s family has since brought against the agency.
Martinez, who doesn’t speak English due to living most of his life in Mexico, eventually convinced authorities months later of his citizenship and was able to rejoin his family in Mercedes. But the question of what caused the problem in the first place remains unanswered.
Trinidad Castro and her two grown daughters encountered a similar problem just last month at a port of entry in Brownsville.
Castro — a legal resident at the time — delivered both of her daughters in the city with the aid of a midwife but quickly moved them back to her home south of the border.
When it came time to register the girls for school, she obtained Mexican birth certificates for them that established their birthplace as Matamoros — an admittedly improper move under Mexican law that should not have affected their U.S. citizenship status, Brodyaga said.
Like many Valley residents, the women spent their lives frequently traveling back and forth across the border without issue until Aug. 24, when a CBP agent questioned the fact that one of her daughters’ identification documents indicated she had been delivered by a midwife.
All three were held and questioned for 11 hours, until Castro signed a confession she now describes as false stating that her daughters had actually been born in Mexico.
“(This) case is not an isolated instance, but a window into the cases of dozens, if not hundreds, of similarly situated persons,” said Brodyaga, who is also representing the Castro women, in court filings.
Perhaps the greatest misfortune in cases like that of Martinez, the Castros and Robin Whiteley lies in that each likely could have avoided the brushes with immigration authorities were it not for one or two wrong turns made for no other reason than they didn’t know any better.
It could take years to undo those mistakes.
It’s likely Martinez never would have run into trouble had he brought only one birth certificate — instead of two different ones — while making a fateful crossing in Nogales, Ariz.
Seeking only to enroll her children in school, Castro obtained falsified Mexican birth certificates that first brought suspicion on her and her family. Then, she signed her purported false confession believing it to be the only way to end the 11-hour ordeal she and her daughters had been put through at the bridge.
And with the aid of a competent attorney, Robin Whiteley, too, could have had a decent chance of fighting off his first deportation order.
Instead, he has continued to make decisions — like sneaking back into the country illegally — that haven’t done anything to help his case. But what else can he do?, he asks.
“I’ve got two small kids and two older kids,” he said. “They need me. It’s just too much to be away and not be able to see or provide for them.”
After his first deportation in 2002, he waited a few hours and walked back across the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge. Using a friend’s name and a lie that he had lost his wallet at a club the night before, he successfully re-entered the country, where he resumed his life, got married and had two more children before being discovered in 2005 at a work site in Ohio.
Since then, authorities have forcibly returned him to Mexico two more times.
The latest, just last year, came with a felony conviction of illegal re-entry — a virtual death sentence for any legal effort to return to the United States.
He has crossed back and forth a few times since, but has decided living on the wrong side of the law is no longer worth it. Now, he’s determined to return to the United States the right way — no matter how grim his chances.
“I realize I’m not a poster boy for what people would want an immigrant to be,” he said. “But I’ve never considered myself an immigrant.
“I just need one person to listen.”
Man charged with smuggling aliens
BORDER PATROL ARREST: Polish citizen accused of helping four people enter U.S. illegally at Wellesley Island
By BRIAN KELLY
TIMES STAFF WRITER
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2009
ALEXANDRIA BAY — A Polish citizen faces an allegation that he smuggled two of his compatriots, as well as a Belarusian and an Australian, into the United States at Wellesley Island.
Wlodzimierz Wiesko, 36, also known as Adam D. Ranecki, faces a federal complaint that he smuggled aliens into the country and harbored them after a vehicle he was operating was halted by U.S. Border Patrol agents Sept. 3 on Interstate 81 just south of the Thousand Islands Bridge.
According to the complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Mr. Wiesko picked up the illegal aliens at the end of a dead-end Wellesley Island road leading toward Lake of the Isles and then headed south over the international bridge.
It is alleged that a Border Patrol agent observed a vehicle traveling down the dead-end Novak Road. Since the area has been identified as one used for smuggling of aliens and contraband, the agent requested backup and began following the vehicle.
According to the complaint, a second agent stopped the 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, which was registered to a New Jersey trucking firm. Mr. Wiesko allegedly identified himself to the agent as Adam D. Ranecki, 28, and produced two forms of identification from Illinois. He told the agent he was heading to Syracuse, but allegedly was "evasive and vague" in his answers.
The agent attempted to question the other passengers, but was told they did not speak English. All of the vehicle's occupants were then taken to the Wellesley Island Border Patrol station for further questioning, at which time Mr. Wiesko allegedly admitted his true identity.
According to the complaint, he also admitted he had used Mr. Ranecki's Social Security card to obtain a fake Illinois driver's license because his driver's license was suspended. Agents allegedly found Mr. Ranecki's Social Security card in the vehicle, as well as five credit cards issued under the alias Adam Ranecki. There also was $3,600 wrapped in black electrical tape in Mr. Wiesko's possession.
A records check showed that Mr. Wiesko had entered the country through Philadelphia, Pa., in 2002 with a visitor's visa. In 2005, he applied for "employment authorization," but was denied and subsequently was processed for removal from the country. He applied for relief from deportation and the case is still under review by an immigration judge, according to the complaint.
A further check of records allegedly revealed that the passengers were in the country illegally, resulting in allegations that they had eluded examination and inspection by immigration officers when entering the country.
Being held by U.S. marshals pending a detention hearing Tuesday in district court are two Polish women, Roualda Rutkowska, 65, and Alina Dziadosz, 42; a Belarusian man, Victor Butco, 39, and an Australian man, Brett A. Colton, 37.
According to the complaint, each admitted to being smuggled into the country and "revealed a fear for their lives if they were to become witnesses in this smuggling case."
Mr. Wiesko also faces a detention hearing Tuesday.
Immigrant finds help in getting back to America
September 14, 2009
LAKE CHARLES(AP) — It was almost two years since the 27-year-old man had seen his wife and their children, a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.
"My little boy Hunter was shy, but he recognized my voice and smiled. But my daughter Amber jumped all over me with hugs. I was so happy," said Elvis Martinez, now legally at home in the country where he had lived illegally since he was 16.
He left Honduras in 1998 to join relatives already in the United States, and try to improve his life. His mother had died.
"She was young, 47, when she got a kidney infection and then died. I took care of her. After that, I didn't want to stay. So I left, and it took me a month and a half to get to America," Martinez said.
He walked and took buses to Houston, where an aunt lived.
Martinez was among about 2.9 million people who entered the country without authorization from 1995-99, according to a study released in 2006 by the Pew Hispanic Center.
He got a low-paying restaurant job, and eventually a job in a paint and body shop where he worked for more than four years.
While working there, Martinez, met his wife, Hayden, a Lake Charles native.
"I didn't get married for my immigration papers," Martinez said. "I got married for love."
His daughter's name is tattooed on his right forearm; his own on the left.
Encouraged by Martinez's brother, the couple moved to North Carolina for more work opportunities. The weather was too chilly for Hayden, so the family moved to Lake Charles, and Martinez was hired to work in the paint and body shop at a car dealership.
That was when Hayden asked her husband if he had thought about becoming a legal resident.
At Southwest Louisiana Legal Services, he met with local attorney Beth Zilbert and immigration guru Shannon Cox.
"Because he came to the U.S. without legal permission, he had to go back to his home country in Honduras in order to get his visa processed," Zilbert said.
Martinez reluctantly drove to Houston, walked onto an airliner and flew back to Central America. Unable to afford their rent, his wife and children went to a shelter.
Martinez expected to be out of the U.S. no more than a few months.
But paperwork got lost.
"I was told my visa was denied," Martinez remembered. "Why? I couldn't believe it, and I had my family in America. It made me cry."
He spent time with his family in San Pedro Sula, a city with over 1 million residents in the northwestern section of Honduras near the Caribbean Sea.
And he learned that his tattoos gave people the wrong impression.
"After about a month, I started getting out, going to Internet cafes to communicate with my wife and kids. Police would see me and thought I was a gangster because of the tattoos," he said.
He had trouble getting a job. "Business owners didn't want people around like that. They thought it was gangster stuff. But I did get a job in an auto body shop with a guy from Costa Rica," he said.
Cox remembers getting frequent pay phone calls from Martinez.
"He'd be telling me, 'You have to get me out of here. It's dangerous for me,'" Cox said.
On June 28 — coincidentally, the day a coup exiled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya — Cox and Zilbert were told that Martinez's visa and green card were available.
"But perseverance pays off," Zilbert said.
An official at the American consulate called Martinez on Aug. 26.
"I was so happy," Martinez said.
He was given his immigration papers and immediately bought an airline ticket to Houston.
"I was leaving my family, but I was going to my family. I couldn't believe it," Martinez said.
Now that he's in Lake Charles, Martinez plans to get a Social Security number, driver's license, open a bank account and start repairing cars again. He also intends to become an American citizen.
"This is a place for opportunity. It's a good place, but you can't mess around in America. You must follow the rules," Martinez said.
Cox said her client's visa is valid for one year. But permanent residency papers — which will let him stay in America 10 years — will be available to him in the coming weeks.
"His case should have been done and finished within the first nine months he went back to Honduras," Cox said. "The consulate basically lost his immigration packet, added to overall inefficiency."
She encourages any immigrant "to come to America the right way. Come legally. I understand why they take the chance, but it's not worth it."
Returning home voluntarily gave Martinez the right to apply for a visa and waiver. Had he been caught as an illegal immigrant, he could have been deported and faced a potential three-year to lifetime ban.
When he flew into Houston at the end of August, passport and visa in hand, the first step was an interview with a U.S. immigration official.
"He said, 'Welcome to America.' That felt so good," Martinez said.
Clinton Township police blotter [2nd item]
September 14, 2009
HINDERING APPREHENSION, 10:10 a.m. Sept. 5. Sgt. Matthew McGill stopped a vehicle driven by Deryck Sooklal, 20, of Newark, on the Round Valley Access Road near Route 22 for failing to signal a turn. During the stop, Sooklal provided numerous aliases before his true identity was discovered, police said. Once Sooklal's true identity was discovered, McGill located several criminal and motor vehicle warrants for his arrest from Newark and Atlantic City. McGill also discovered that Sooklal was in the country illegally, police said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was contacted and filed a no-bail deportation order for Sooklal. McGill transported Sooklal to the Hunterdon County Jail without bail.
Immigrant scam victims being deported
CLINTON, Utah, Sept. 14 (UPI) --
Six immigrants allegedly victimized by a Utah woman in a legal residency scam have been deported before they could testify in the matter, a lawyer says.
Attorney Aaron Tarin said at least six of the immigrants set to testify against Leticia Avila of Clinton have been deported before they can testify how Avila allegedly falsely claimed she could help them obtain legal residency in the United States, The Salt Lake Tribune said Sunday.
"We're in a race against immigration to get justice," Tarin said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement began deportation proceedings against the immigrants after a federal investigation into Avila did not result in criminal charges.
Tarin said the targeted immigrants only came forward to testify because it was implied they would somehow be legally protected from being deported.
Avila is accused in a Utah State Bar complaint of posing as an attorney and collecting funds from 17 immigrants as payment for legal residency efforts she never completed.
The Tribune said Avila denied the allegations and filed a counter-complaint against the immigrants and their attorneys that seeks at least $3.5 million in damages for alleged acts of slander.
Border Patrol: Immigrants using jetskis to cross into U.S.
6:18 p.m. September 14, 2009
IMPERIAL BEACH – Add personal watercraft to the ways illegal immigrants are trying to cross the border, the U.S. Border Patrol says.
About 9:20 p.m. Saturday, agents were patrolling the shoreline near the U.S.-Mexico border when they spotted a personal watercraft heading north. They later found it abandoned near Seacoast Drive.
Agents searched the area and found two illegal immigrants hiding nearby. The watercraft was seized and the men are expected to be deported to Mexico.
Religious Leaders Face Deportation: Detention Reignites Churches’ Call for Immigration Reform (Feet In 2 Worlds)
Religious Leaders Face Deportation: Detention Reignites Churches’ Call for Immigration Reform
By Valeria Fernández, FI2W contributor
PHOENIX, Arizona – A group of eight religious leaders of the Disciples of Christ denomination in Phoenix are facing deportation after being detained by a tribal police department when they were on their way to a spiritual retreat.
The incident that occurred on Sept. 4 has shaken up the Evangelical church community in Phoenix, which is redoubling its efforts to call on President Barack Obama to take action on a comprehensive immigration reform plan.
“We’re planning to send him a letter soon with a group of churches,” said Job Cobos, who oversees the 13 Spanish churches of the Disciples of Christ in Arizona and who is also the pastor of the English-language Larkspur Christian Church.
A caravan of vehicles from the Alfa y Omega Church was driving towards Payson for a weekend spiritual retreat, when one van with nine passengers was pulled over.
The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Police Department stopped the van because it was driving significantly below the speed limit, chief of police Jesse Delmar told Feet in 2 Worlds.
They gave a ticket to the driver because he didn’t have a license and for lack of insurance and registration. Then they asked all passengers for their identification.
“It’s common procedure to do that for all passengers,” said Delmar.
Because they couldn’t produce ID, the police called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the chief said. ICE took eight men into custody and released one for health reasons.
“It was just a routine stop,” said Delmar.
But for those who witnessed the arrest, it was more than that.
“The van was identified with the name of our church. They knew we were Hispanic,” said Elias Garcia, a pastor who was driving behind the van. Garcia said they were driving when the police patrol suddenly got in between the vehicles. There was no reason for the van to be stopped, he said.
“I cried and I pleaded with the police to release them. I said: ‘They’re good people. Let them go.’ But they had them handcuffed for two hours, seated on the side of the road, until immigration came for them,” Garcia said.
Garcia approached the police during the arrest. He is still wondering why they didn’t ask him for ID. He is also an undocumented immigrant.
“I’m not afraid to say it,” he said.
Those detained are the parents of at least 15 children in the 250-member church. About half of these children are U.S. citizens, Garcia said.
“They were going to a spiritual retreat. They had their Bibles with them,” said Daniela Valdes, 25, a U.S. citizen and the wife of one the detainees. “People are being taken from their families without any conscience.”
Her husband José Luis de Los Santos, 30, the father of her two children, is currently being held in the Florence Immigration Detention Center.
They’ve been married for a year and she wanted to apply for legal documentation for her husband. But because he entered the country illegally he would have to return to Mexico to apply, facing a three-to-10 year ban against re-entering the country.
“It doesn’t make any sense, you’ll think because I’m a U.S. citizen we could do something,” said Valdes, a Colorado native.
“I’m sure if I had lots of money to hire a very good attorney we could do something,” she said.
The church is currently seeking help from the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix to get legal representation for the men who are still in custody. At least three of them already signed off on their voluntary deportation.
This is not the first time the local Christian churches have felt the heat of the immigration climate in Arizona.
On April 2008, a group of men were singing and praying at a spiritual retreat at a campsite in Prescott when Yavapai County’s deputies showed up. They claimed they were investigating a complaint about noise. They questioned the men’s immigration status and turned them over to ICE custody. One of the men was legally in the country and was arrested by mistake.
The incident was denounced by a large number of evangelical churches in Arizona.
Still the situation has not changed in the state.
“They’ve deported many of our members,” said Pastor Cobos. Because of the proximity to the border the people deported from Arizona are dropped across the line in Nogales, Sonora. But many of them are from other parts of Mexico or haven’t been in the country since they were children.
That’s why Cobos said they are opening a church in Nogales that could receive these people.
“We’re not politicians, we’re pastors,” said Cobos. “We’re pastors who are trying to protect people who are vulnerable, fragile and persecuted.”
He said the Disciples of Christ denomination in Arizona is working on creating an anti-racism committee to deal with issues affecting their Latino membership.
Both Anglos and Hispanics in the church are coming together to discuss these issues and support one another, he added.
The denomination has about 600,000 members nationwide and an anti-racism agenda is among its four priorities, according to its website.
The religious leaders’ detention is a reminder to many in the immigrant community that Maricopa County deputies are not the only ones who can pull them over, leading to deportation. Other police agencies, even those that haven’t signed a 287(g) contract that deputizes their officers as immigration agents, have agreements with ICE that allow them to place a phone call to report on someone.
That’s been an ongoing issue for police departments who want to gain trust from the communities in order to report crimes.
“This has had a devastating impact, but on the other hand it could have a positive result in raising awareness with our Congressmen as to the urgency of immigration reform,” said Magdalena Schwartz, a pastor at the Disciples of the Kingdom Free Methodist Church in Mesa.
Schwartz said ten Hispanic evangelical churches –of different denominations– closed their doors because the membership had gone down due to the current anti-immigrant climate.
“These men they detained were religious leaders, they’re not missing only from their families but also from the service they did in our church,” Pastor Garcia said. “Our American pastors are realizing now what’s going on. This didn’t happen to a DUI offender or a smuggler, they’re touching the body of Christ.”
Drophouse busts declining in Phoenix; trend unclear
by Daniel González - Sept. 14, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Police have discovered fewer drophouses harboring illegal immigrants this year in metropolitan Phoenix, and authorities say they are also finding far fewer people stashed inside than in the past.
Local authorities have reported 144 drophouses to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials so far this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, compared with the 186 discovered in fiscal 2008.
And instead of 50 or 60 illegal immigrants crammed inside a drophouse, police are finding only 15 or 20 people.
But law-enforcement officials are hesitant to say those numbers point to a decrease in smuggling activity. The officials say there are other factors to consider, such as fewer illegal immigrants crossing the border in Arizona and increasingly sophisticated smuggling organizations.
In recent years, Phoenix has gained the dubious distinction of being the human-smuggling capital of the nation. Smugglers, known as coyotes, frequently hold illegal immigrants inside rented houses like cattle before transporting them from the border region to other parts of the country. Some also beat and torture immigrants to extort extra smuggling fees.
In response, local, state and federal authorities have launched a crackdown, raiding scores of drophouses and prosecuting hundreds of smugglers.
Authorities are encouraged by the decline in the number of drophouses and harbored immigrants, which they say also could be a sign that fewer people are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally, a result of tighter border security and a recession that has dried up jobs.
Border Patrol arrests, one measure of migrant traffic, have decreased significantly in Arizona: They are down 24 percent in the Tucson sector and 18 percent in the Yuma sector. The two sectors, which cover all of Arizona and a portion of California, are among the nine Border Patrol regions on the southwest border.
On Aug. 27, police raided a drophouse on Jefferson Avenue in west Phoenix and found 12 illegal immigrants. The raid was carried out by the Illegal Immigration Prevention and Apprehension Co-op Team, or IIMPACT. The joint task force, run by the Arizona Department of Public Safety with assistance from Phoenix police and ICE, is aimed at combating violent smuggling organizations.
The immigrants told investigators they had been held captive for several days by three smugglers who beat them with closet rods and boards, said Robert Bailey, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
The smugglers had boarded up the windows to prevent escapes.
A neighbor, who didn't want to give his name, said he had no idea the house was being used to harbor illegal immigrants. The only activity he ever saw, he said, was two men who came outside to water plants every other day.
The Jefferson Avenue drophouse shows how smugglers are getting more sophisticated, which may help explain why police are finding fewer drophouses with fewer migrants inside, said Matthew Allen, the special agent in charge of ICE's office of investigation in Arizona.
Smugglers are trying to limit their losses should police raid their drophouses, Allen said.
They also may be trying to protect their "loads" from kidnapping gangs, known as bajadores. The bajadores kidnap loads of illegal immigrants from smugglers to hold them for ransom, a common crime in the Phoenix area.
Smugglers also seem to be taking extra precautions to keep the locations of drophouses secret and to avoid drawing attention from suspicious neighbors, which is how police find many drophouses.
Illegal immigrants have told investigators that smugglers blindfolded them or ordered them to put their heads down as they were driven to drophouses, making it difficult for an immigrant who might escape to tell police where he had been held.
Smugglers also often take clothes, shoes and socks, leaving migrants only their underwear, to deter escapes. In addition, smugglers seal windows shut with plywood, sometimes even covering windows first with drapes to avoid attracting unwanted attention.
And police have found smugglers who watered plants, kept lawns trimmed and didn't let trash bags pile up outside.
"The smugglers are getting more clever," said Lt. Joe Sousa, head of the human-smuggling unit of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. "Last Christmas, we (raided) a house where coyotes put up Christmas decorations just to blend in with the neighborhood."
Sousa believes there are still plenty of drophouses, based on the number of smuggling vehicles loaded with illegal immigrants his unit finds on highways leading out of Phoenix. His unit raided about 20 drophouses in 2008 and another 20 or so this year.
"It seems like every time we go out to look for load vehicles, we find them," he said. "They have to be coming from somewhere."
At the Jefferson Avenue drophouse, one of the migrants called 911 on a hidden cellphone, said Bob Smart, a DPS lieutenant who runs the unit. Emergency phone operators tracked the vicinity of the drophouse using the cellphone signal, Smart said.
As officers closed in, two coyotes ran. One tossed a black semiautomatic pistol over the fence of a neighbor's yard, Bailey said. Police find firearms in 90 percent of drophouses.
Officers caught one coyote in back of the drophouse, the other hiding nearby behind oleander bushes, Bailey said.
Police arrested a third coyote pretending to be an immigrant. Coyotes frequently try to blend in with smuggled migrants to avoid prosecution, law- enforcement officials say. But police can spot them by looking at their feet, hair and clothes to see if they look like they have walked long miles through the desert.
The task force has arrested 137 smugglers so far this year, more than the 129 arrested in all of 2008, Smart said.
Smart said word has gotten out that police are cracking down on smugglers. Smugglers convicted of kidnapping and extorting illegal immigrants are typically getting seven to 10 years behind bars, and some have received sentences of 15 years or more in prison, Smart said.
"We have a 100 percent conviction rate," Smart said. "We haven't lost a single case."
In July, police found a smuggler hiding under insulation in the rafters of a drophouse, Smart said. The attic temperature was 160 degrees. The coyote nearly died of heatstroke.
"This guy was willing to give his life not to get caught," Smart said.
Man arrested in death of Mexican woman in Neb.
OMAHA (AP) - A suspect in an Omaha murder has been arrested on a bus in Oklahoma en route to Mexico.
Omaha police say 35-year-old Juan Melgoza-Ramirez is awaiting extradition to Nebraska in the murder of Yolanda Escalona-Trejo of Mexico City. He was arrested by immigration officers late Friday night on a bus in Oklahoma City.
Escalona-Trejo was found dead Wednesday evening in a north Omaha home. Wednesday was her 32nd birthday.
Community Watch [6th item]
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 1:02 AM CDT
Daily News staff
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, NORTH OF LAKE HAVASU CITY - Mohave County Sheriff's deputies arrested three illegal immigrants Saturday evening. Deputies observed a vehicle traveling 50 miles per hour in a posted 35 mph zone. At about 11:40 p.m., deputies conducted a traffic stop on Highway 95, at the eastbound entrance to Interstate 40. Two of the occupants produced Mexico identification cards. During the investigation, deputies located two open alcoholic beverages inside the vehicle. The driver identified as Jesus Gamez, 21, and passenger identified as Dimas Gamez, 34, were each arrested for possession of an open container in a vehicle, misdemeanor. The second passenger was identified as Mauro Martinez, 21. With the assistance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), all three subjects were determined to be illegal immigrants. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed a hold on the subjects after speaking with them. They were taken into custody and transported to the Mohave County District III Substation where ICE placed a hold on them. The vehicle was towed from the scene.
Cuban migrants found at Fort Myers gas station
Posted: Sep 14, 2009 10:39 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 14, 2009 11:01 PM EDT
By Kevin Ozebek
FORT MYERS: Immigration investigators are looking into an apparent Cuban migrant landing in Southwest Florida. But it's where the people were discovered that's raising questions.
Around 5 p.m. Monday, Hervin Alvate says he saw six people sitting outside the Handy Food Mart Gas Station on Ortiz Avenue. He says they looked a little out of place.
He says they all looked dehydrated and had skin problems.
"Some type of rash - I guess from being in a fiberglass boat," said Alvate. "I was just minding my own business and then they asked me if I could call immigration."
Alvate says the five men and one woman told them they had just arrived from Havana. So he went inside and called 9-1-1.
"Two patrol cars came over here and started investigating," he said.
Sergeant Stephanie Eller, with the Lee County Sheriff's Office, says deputies took the six people to Lee Memorial Hospital.
"They appeared happy to be here," she said. "They wanted to claim asylum as Cuban nationals."
She says what makes this case so different is where these six Cubans were found - not on the beach, but at an inland gas station.
"This is something a little more unusual than when we do catch them at the borders or on the beachfront," Eller said.
Eller said the six people left Cuba last Tuesday and appear to be in good health.
Also on Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted a 28-foot, twin outboard, go-fast boat with 40, 15-gallon fuel containers and four people onboard.
The vessel was spotted by a crew from Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach while on a routine patrol.
Those four individuals onboard the vessel were turned over to state authorities for further investigation regarding their suspected violation of a recently enacted Florida criminal law, which prohibits the transportation of fuel in certain containers onboard vessels.
One of the people onboard also had a warrant for his arrest from Miami-Dade County for assault and kidnapping.
Illegals part of scheme to obtain hundreds of driver's licenses
September 15, 2009 7:13 AM
Three Hispanics were put in Gaston County Jail on Monday for allegedly offering $300 bribes to a driver's license examiner.
The two men and woman each allegedly offered $300 cash to examiner H.I. Bolton, who was working at the Division of Motor Vehicles office on West Franklin Boulevard, according to warrant affidavits.
Claudia Morales Rodriquez, 29, 1620 Herman Drive, Gastonia, Juan Alberto Vasquez, 37, 108 Shady Grove Road, Kings Mountain, and Alfredo Lopez Hernandez, 1620 Herman Drive, each face charges of offering bribes.
All three were given bonds of $10,000, although their release remains on hold by Immigration and Customs Enforcement pending a review of their immigration status, according to Gaston County Sheriff's Office.
The arrest of the three in Gaston County were part of five arrests, including two in Rutherford County.
DMV inspectors arrested Mario Ziranda, 35, and Elvis Sanchez, 28, at their residence at 272 Roberson Lane, Forest City, on common law forgery and manufacturing North Carolina driver licenses. Sanchez has no legal United States documentation. Both are being held on $75,000 secured bond in the Rutherford County jail.
The arrests resulted from an investigation into the operation of a document lab which contained equipment and materials to manufacture counterfeit resident alien cards, Social Security cards, birth certificates and driver licenses from six states, according to a release from the DMV.
A Gaston County driver license examiner assisted in the investigation. Annually, the License and Theft Bureau performs more than 3,600 fraud investigations.
Search warrants issued at the Forest City residence resulted in ledgers indicating hundreds of fake document sales weekly. Driver licenses from California, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio and North Carolina were found at the location, along with Social Security cards and a Maryland birth certificate. Also seized at the location was $8,000 in cash and 15 grams of cocaine.
License and theft inspectors from Gaston, Burke, Lincoln, Catawba and Cleveland counties conducted the investigations and made the arrests. Law enforcement officials from the Gastonia Police Department, Forest City Police Department and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the arrests.
Deportation Hearing Delayed for Victor Toro, Long-time Bronx Activist
By Jaisal Noor
September 15, 2009
On Aug. 26, the deportation hearing for ex-political prisoner and human rights organizer Victor Toro was adjourned until Jan. 11, 2010. A Bronx community organizer and former leader in the 1970s-era resistance to Chile’s military dictatorship, Toro was arrested in an immigration sweep by border officials aboard an Amtrak train in Rochester, New York on July 6, 2007 and charged with being in the country illegally. He is currently free on $5,000 bail.
For the past quarter century Toro and his family have made the South Bronx their home. Toro’s wife is a U.S. citizen, and his daughter is a legal permanent resident. One of his first acts after settling in the South Bronx was to help found the organization La Peña Del Bronx which fights for immigrant and worker rights.
Toro told The Indypendent, “The act of deportation is a criminal act, for someone who has worked contributed to his community and society for more than 25 years. The sudden deportation will destroy my family, and separate me from the social networks I have built. This to me seems like a violation of human rights and a crime against my humanity.”
Before coming to the United States, Toro helped found and lead the group, Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), or Revolution Left Movement. This group lead the opposition to the U.S.-sponsored coup against the military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, who seized power on September 11, 1973. Under the Pincohet regime, thousands of Chileans political opponents were killed and disappeared and tens of thousands more tortured.
As a leader of the opposition, Toro himself was imprisoned and brutally tortured for three years by the Pinochet regime, declared dead, and then forced into exile. According to the The New York Times, Pincohet considered Toro among the top 13 most dangerous people to the regime. He eventually made his way to the United States in in 1984.
Now the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement are seeking to deport Toro back to Chile. The prosecution filed a 46-page court brief which contains archival newspaper and magazine articles, Library of Congress documents and other reports on the activities of MIR. Also included in the brief is a 1986 RAND Corporation Study conducted for the U.S. Air Force that states that the MIR “has become the principle opposition to the current Pincohet government in Chile.” It charges that MIR attacked government buildings, assassinating government officials and assaulting others. However, the same documents show that MIR has not been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States or other U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or the European Union.
It would appear the government will argue through Toro’s leadership with MIR—which the Pinochet regime considered a terrorist organization—that he was engaged in terrorism. Victor Toro’s lawyer, Carlos Moreno told The Indypendent he is ready to respond to these charges in court.
“I think the first thing that needs to be kept in mind is that MIR was at one point considered a terrorist organization but you have to consider who they were fighting,” Moreno said. “They were fighting Pinochet, an illegal government and therefore if the classification as a terrorist organization was earned because they were fighting an illegally established government.”
“I think it should be more of a badge of honor than a disgrace,” he added.
The brief also includes a Human Rights Watch Press Release which discusses current Chilean President Michelle Bachellet’s 2007 visit to Human Rights Watch. Bachelet’s election was significant in Chile because Bachelet herself was tortured during Pinochet’s rule. The report notes, “considerable progress Chile has made on human rights, thanks to the efforts of abuse victims, civil society groups, and leaders like President Bachelet.”
Despite the return of democracy to Chile in 1990, a current president who has first hand knowledge of Pinochet’s brutality, Toro remains concerned about what awaits him in Chile. In the biggest such action to date, on Sept 2. a Chilean judge ordered the arrest of 129 ex-members of the Chilean Secret Police, Dina.
“The armed forces have not been changed since Pincohet. The Supreme Court is also Pinochetista and both bodies of congress are composed mostly of congress members and senators left over from the old regime. So what we actually have in Chile is an inherited Pinochet government managed by Bachelett,” Toro said.
Moreno plans to produce contemporary witnesses and photographs of torture to argue the case against Toro’s deportation. Moreno is confident the motion will be granted.
“We have the best documented political asylum claim I have seen in years and our goal is to make sure victor remains in the United States and will not be deported,” Moreno said. “There is ample evidence which establishes that Pinochet and the military junta came to power with the support of the United States. That’s not subject to dispute.”
Moreno also added that while it is ironic that Toro is requesting asylum in the United States, it also makes sense.
“The United States is largely responsible for what happened in Chile..Therefore I would I would look at the political asylum claim as a way for some type of compensation from the U.S. government for what happened to Chile as a country and Victor as a person,” Moreno said.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
As detention center shuts down in Texas, advocates worry about future for immigrant families (AP c/o Los Angeles Times)
As detention center shuts down in Texas, advocates worry about future for immigrant families
ANABELLE GARAY Associated Press Writer
September 9, 2009 | 3:31 p.m.
DALLAS (AP) — As immigrant children and their parents depart a disparaged former Texas prison that housed them while they awaited decisions in their immigration cases, advocates are questioning if the government has fully thought out what happens to the families now.
Federal officials announced last month that the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor would no longer hold immigrant families and they instead would be detained at the much smaller Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa. But with only 84 beds — and more than 100 people once housed at Hutto — some advocates wonder if there will be enough space, or if immigrants will be released.
"We still have a lot of questions and would like to hear more details," said Denise Gilman, of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, which along with other advocates filed a lawsuit contending that family detention at Hutto was inhumane.
Hutto is set to stop holding immigrant families by the end of the year, government officials say, and families have slowly been leaving. Instead of transferring the families to Berks, the government has been trying to process the cases of families at both facilities.
The Texas facility went from holding 127 men, women and children last month to just 22 people this week. They were either deported to their home countries or released while they pursue asylum or another immigration status to remain in the U.S.
As the change takes place, advocates are watching to see if the Pennsylvania facility has better conditions, if cases are handled fairly and if new problems arise because of the shift.
Hutto opened as a family detention center in 2006, ending a so-called "catch and release" practice that had permitted families to remain free while their immigration cases were settled. The facility was necessary, ICE officials maintained, because many never showed up in court or some borrowed other people's children and posed as families to avoid detention.
But the facility quickly drew criticism, and The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates sued the government in 2007 over the detention facility's conditions.
Attorneys and UT law students visiting Hutto to assist detainees with their immigration cases were astonished by the prison-like setting and regimen. Children wore drab prison scrubs. Razor wire encircled the site. They lived in tiny cells furnished with bunk beds and a steel toilet and were subjected to head counts several times a day. Guards with the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America trained to detain criminal adults were overseeing children. Parents said guards disciplined children with threats of being separated from their family.
The Berks facility, by contrast, is a former nursing home and with a reputation among attorneys for being more family friendly. Younger children stay with their parents, while teenagers sleep in separate rooms. One former resident told The Associated Press adults and children went on field trips during her stay, refrigerators in the hallways were stocked with fruit and juice and an interfaith prayer group is available. But still, the stays can be far from smooth.
The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears for her safety after fleeing cartel violence in Mexico, said at the border, officials had told her and her American husband she would only be detained for a week at most. But when she arrived, there were families who had been at the facility for a year, longer than the typical stay of a month at Hutto. Some residents had waited for a month or two before being interviewed by an asylum officer.
"That's when I said to myself 'So what awaits me?'" said the Mexican woman, who has since been released on humanitarian parole after a month at Berks and has petitioned to remain in the country since she's married to a U.S. citizen.
Going forward, families arriving at the U.S. border and entry points seeking asylum or trying to immigrate will be taken to Berks if the government believes they will disappear instead of showing up to immigration court, said Dora Schriro, who has been heading up the new Office of Detention Policy and Planning at the Department of Homeland Security. Other families will be released and placed on some type of community supervision, Schriro said.
The families at Hutto will likely be deported or receive some type of immigration benefit, such as asylum or parole, allowing them to remain in the U.S. before Hutto closes, she said.
Schriro will leave her new post mending of the nation's immigration detention system to be commissioner of correction for New York City, leaving advocates with questions over how that will affect the upcoming changes.
For now, advocates for immigrant families say they will be watching to see if Berks detainees can access legal representation. About one-third of asylum seekers before the court that handles Berks' cases did not have an attorney, while a majority at Hutto did, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Having an attorney boosts people's chances of remaining in the country.
They also worry there could be some unintended consequences in the switch, especially when it comes to distance. Berks is located thousands of miles from the border crossings in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas used by most of the detainees and some question whether the government will be able to quickly and humanely transport such families to Pennsylvania.
"What happens to a family arrested in Texas or who goes to the border ... and asks for asylum? Will those people be released?" asked Barbara Hines, director of the Immigration Clinic at UT Law School. "To send them all the way to Berks if they're going to be released anyway seems like a waste of resources to me."