ICE Raid Report is on hiatus until August 1st. Apologies for the silence and missed news stories.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
'Florida 15' expose employer abuse
by Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News North America Bureau
Posted at 07/12/2011 5:26 PM | Updated as of 07/12/2011 5:29 PM
JERSEY CITY, USA – Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas and other Filipinos who came out of the shadow, Filipino H2-B seasonal workers from Miami, Florida have decided to reveal their stories as well.
They call themselves the "Florida 15," a group of Filipino workers who claim they are victims of human trafficking by their Filipino employer, Jose Villanueva, who owns recruitment and employment company San Villa Ship Management Co.
They have left their employer in Miami and are now seeking the help of Filipino organizations in New York and New Jersey.
Patricia Ballesteros came to the US in 2009 to work as a housekeeper at the W Hotel in Miami. She said many of them paid San Villa Ship Management up to $300,000 for placement and training fees just to get jobs in Florida.
"Siyempre dream ng most Filipinos, pag-inisip nila ang America, nandun yung greener pastures. Kaya yung dream na makapunta ng America. Fortunately, pinalad naman, sa US embassy pa lang, kahit alam natin mahirap yung process sa embassy," Ballesteros said.
"Unfortunately, pagdating namin dito, medyo naging masaklap," she added.
Mars Escubido came to the US to work as a housekeeper for W-Hotel and was also recruited by San Villa in 2009. He says he now owes more than $7,000 from a lender in the Philippines.
"Habang nagtatrabaho kami sa W-Hotel, patagal ng patagal, nalaman namin na $16 to $17 yung per hour namin, pero ang binibigay lang niya sa amin ay $6 per hour. Yung overtime namin flat rate din sa $6," Escubido said.
Many of them said that they are only paid once a month and that their paychecks are usually late.
Ronald Espiritu said that he worked for Villanueva as an Area Manager for San Villa from 2008 to March 2011. He said the money is there but Villanueva cannot explain to them why San Villa is not paying its employees properly and on time.
"As a manager, kitang-kita ko yung sweldo, every week," Espiritu said. "Walang kliyente sa America na magde-delay ng bayad."
Espiritu said that they received the payment from their clients every week, including the hotel where Escubido and Ballesteros worked.
Many of the workers have overstayed their visas without knowing it, because San Villa Ship Management allegedly failed to renew their Seasonal H2-B visas.
Annabelle Sibayan said that she was told that San Villa was renewing her work visa. But she was arrested by agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) for overstaying.
"Ang sabi sa amin ni Jojo Villanueva, lumuhod daw kami sa Police para lang huwag kaming ma-detain," Sibayan said. "Inisip ko, agency kita, dapat nandito ka sa amin dahil tao mo kami."
Sibayan is now undergoing deportation proceedings.
The National Alliance for Filipino Concern (NAFCON) promised to help the Florida 15.
Gary Labao of NAFCON said that they will help the workers find jobs and get lawyers who will take on their case pro bono.
Court records show that this is not the first time San Villa’s owner, Jose Villanueva, has been accused of wage theft and unfair labor practices by their recruits.
There have been other individuals who have sued Villanueva and are still awaiting judgment on their cases.
Balitang America tried to contact the San Villa office in Miami, but the line has been disconnected. A recorded message on Jose Villanueva's cell phone, meanwhile, said that the owner is out of the country.
14 illegal immigrants held after boat flips in surf off O.C. [Updated]
July 12, 2011 | 10:32 am
[Updated at 12:12 p.m.: Fourteen immigrants were detained and another remains at large, authorities said. There were no seriorious injuries or deaths reported.
All are Mexican naitonals, officials said.]
The incident was reported around 5 a.m. at Crystal Cove, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The nationalities of those detained were not immediately available because they were still being questioned by federal agents, Kice said. A search of the area did not turn up the boat's other two occupants, who authorities believe fled the scene.
The incident comes a day after 15 immigrants from Mexico were rescued from Santa Cruz Island, where authorities said they were believed to have been abandoned by a smuggler.
Kice noted that the boats being used by the new breed of maritime smugglers are not designed for lengthy, deep-water trips, and as a consequence were putting illegal immigrants in peril.
"In recent weeks we've had multiple instances where smuggled aliens have been ejected from these boats, suffering fairly significant injuries," Kice said.
A March 24 story in The Times detailed how the battle over illegal immigration has shifted to the California coast in response to stricter enforcement on land routes along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last year, 867 illegal immigrants and smugglers were arrested at sea or along the California coast, more than double the number in 2009. Most landings occurred on San Diego-area beaches but also were reported in Orange County, including near the San Onofre nuclear power plant and Crystal Cove near Newport Beach.
Those engaging in human trafficking have also been smuggling drugs, which has led to discoveries of vessels on Santa Catalina Island and Santa Rosa Island off the Santa Barbara coast. Smuggling groups have also resorted to posting lookouts to watch for agents and direct boats to unmonitored areas.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Body found near Alton may be abandoned immigrant, sheriff says
July 11, 2011 5:37 PM
NORTH OF ALTON — A body found near the side of a road here Sunday morning might be that of an illegal immigrant left behind by a smuggler, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said.
A man’s body was found without any type of identification near the intersection of Monte Cristo and Moorefield roads about 6:40 a.m., deputies said.
Investigators believe the deceased was in his 20s, about 5 feet 4 inches tall and about 160 pounds, Treviño said. He had black hair and a mustache and was wearing a two-toned, long-sleeved shirt, jeans, black socks and Adidas tennis shoes.
The only personal item found on the body was a business card from someone in a northeastern U.S. state, Treviño said. He would not comment on the nature of the business.
Investigators waited for toxicology results to determine the exact cause of death. Foul play was not suspected as an autopsy performed Monday revealed no external force caused the death, Treviño said.
Instead, deputies believe it may be the body of an immigrant who died while in the custody of a coyote, or smuggler.
Someone placed the body there, Treviño said. Deputies could tell by looking at the man’s shoes — there was a lack of dirt on them, which indicated he had not walked to the location where he was found.
Deputies have investigated three similar incidents in the past two-and-a-half years near that area in which that was the case, Treviño said. Smugglers will intentionally leave the bodies where they can be seen so the deceased can be returned to family members.
Identification cards are usually left behind, but none were found this time, investigators said.
Deputies were working to identify the man Monday. They planned to run his fingerprints through several state and national databases, as well as through the Secure Communities system, which compares the fingerprints of offenders to a federal database to determine if the individual is eligible for deportation under current federal immigration laws.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Immigration ‘attorney’ in legal trouble of his own
by Amber Dixon
Posted: 07.08.2011 at 11:54 PM
Nine hundred dollars doesn't come easy for one Brownsville man, but it's what he paid for a chance to be in the United States legally.
"Si es duro,” said the man.
The man did not want to be identified.
He's an illegal immigrant.
He said he's lived in the U.S for several years, always in fear of being deported.
His $900 went to Joel Tovar, a so-called immigration attorney.
Months later, the man said no work has been done, and the alleged attorney cannot be reached.
"Ahora tiene el telefono desconectado,” said the man.
This man is not alone.
Action 4 News spoke with another Brownsville man who said he paid Tovar $1,500.
He hoped to get his wife a work permit and citizenship.
A year later, the couple has seen no results.
They cannot get in touch with Tovar.
Action 4 News tried contacting Tovar by phone, email and Facebook.
We even visited the home listed on Tovar’s driver's license but got no answer there.
Action 4 News did discover Tovar is facing several criminal charges.
In October 2010, he reportedly threatened a cook at a restaurant with a knife.
Police said he then drove his car at an employee.
The man Action 4 interviewed said he feels helpless.
Being an illegal immigrant, he said reporting Tovar to police is too risky.
He said he believes he was wronged while only trying to do what was right.
Tovar is scheduled to be in court August 25th.
Count on Action 4 News to be there.
WMPD officers arrest illegal alien driving unregistered vehicle
12:00 AM, Jul. 10, 2011
Officers from the West Monroe Police Department arrested an illegal immigrant suspected of operating a vehicle without lawful presence in the U.S., no license plates, no drivers license, expired inspection sticker and no proof of insurance on Friday.
According to arrest reports, officers observed a 2003 Chevy Impala with no license plate driving south on Thomas Road. When the officer conducted a traffic stop, the driver stated she did not have a driver's license.
The woman, identified as Maria Lainez Ortiz, 22, of 294 Tarbutton St., Ruston, said she was illegally in the U.S. and has never applied for citizenship. She said she purchased the vehicle in October 2010 and never had it registered.
Officers observed the car's inspection sticker was expired, but someone had attempted to scratch the year off the sticker.
Ortiz's personal information was sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who confirmed they had no record of Ortiz ever entering the U.S. legally.
Body Beautiful Car Wash, Inc. Teams with Homeland Security to Promote Legal Hiring (East County Magazine)
BODY BEAUTIFUL CAR WASH, INC. TEAMS WITH HOMELAND SECURITY TO PROMOTE LEGAL HIRING
July 9, 2011 (San Diego County) – A San Diego business is the first car wash in the country to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an innovative program that helps businesses ensure that all their employees are authorized to work in the United States.
Body Beautiful Car Wash, Inc., which operates four car wash facilities across San Diego County, has just become certified in the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program, a voluntary program of the Department of Homeland Security. Only six other businesses in San Diego County have achieved this certification.
“Our company is committed to creating a positive impact in the San Diego economy by only hiring local workers who are eligible to legally work in the United States,” said Body Beautiful president Yogi Mody. “This creates a more stable workforce where employees can keep their jobs for the long term.”
Through the program, all of the employees at Body Beautiful are verified by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration before they are allowed to work. Additionally, the company’s staff is trained with the latest information on detecting fraudulent documentation that may be used to illegally gain employment.
“Throughout my more than 30 years’ experience running Body Beautiful, it has been important to me that we follow all state and federal guidelines related to hiring practices, said Mody. “With the IMAGE program in place, I can feel the utmost confidence in my hiring choices.”
The company has also established internal policies in line with the IMAGE program’s best practices, including a written employment policy, training programs, a tip line and very strict anti-discrimination safeguards.
“As an immigrant, I know the value of hard work and playing by the rules. Body Beautiful is dedicated to earning the respect and loyalty of our employees and customers by demonstrating that we follow the rule of law in all employment practices, including paying legal wages,” said Mody. “Our high standards also ensure our customers receive the highest level of service when they come to one of our locations.”
Friday, July 8, 2011
Illegal immigrant found guilty after federal trial in Scranton
BY ERIN L. NISSLEY (STAFF WRITER)
Published: July 8, 2011
A West African man found guilty of hindering deportation will serve no more prison time, a federal judge in Scranton ruled Thursday, though he will remain in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials until he is deported.
Gossi Niakate, age unavailable, has been held in a Pike County detention facility since 2009, about five years after he was ordered by ICE officials to be deported to Mali, Africa, according to court officials.
Mr. Niakate came to the U.S. in 1989 on a temporary visa, but did not leave the United States after his visa expired in 1990.
A jury found Mr. Niakate guilty Thursday afternoon. Hindering deportation carries up to four years in prison. Mr. Niakate, who has spent the past 20 months in custody while awaiting trial on the charge, had asked to be sentenced immediately.
U.S. District Judge James M. Munley then sentenced Mr. Niakate to time served, but reminded him that he still faces deportation.
"It's time you accept the fact you will be deported," the judge said.
Federal public defender Hervery Young said Mr. Niakate was living in Philadelphia when he was discovered by ICE agents to be in the country illegally.
ICE officials have attempted to put him on a commercial plane back to Mali or the Ivory Coast four times, starting in the fall of 2009. Three of those times, Mr. Niakate was removed from the plane for causing disturbances when he told agents he feared he would be killed or prosecuted if he returned to Mali or the Ivory Coast, Mr. Young said.
The defense lawyer said he has no reason to believe his client's fears are unfounded, adding Mr. Niakate testified earlier this week that he is willing to accept deportation to anywhere other than Mali or the Ivory Coast.
The U.S. attorney's office did not return phone calls seeking comment on the case Thursday.
Illegal immigrants found working in Dunes "restricted area"
Posted: Jul 08, 2011 5:04 PM
By Matt Breen, Evening Anchor
Federal authorities say they've arrested three illegal immigrants found working inside the "restricted area" of the Dakota Dunes.
We're talking about the "Country Club" area, between the two levees built to hold back the surging Missouri River. Homeowners haven't been allowed to stay there for more than a month. But, they can visit their homes-- from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm-- every day. So can workers and contractors.
The Union County sheriff found the illegals working for a basement restoration company in the "restricted area."
To date, a total of five illegals have been found in the "restricted area."
Deputies turned them all over to immigration officials for deportation.
Trailer manufacturing company and owner convicted of hiring illegal aliens
by Hugh Holub on Jul. 08, 2011
PHOENIX – Arizona Trailer Manufacturing, Inc., a company based in Buckeye, Ariz., and its president and owner, Richard Taylor, also of Buckeye, were sentenced on Wednesday to two years of probation and to collectively pay a $30,000 fine for engaging in a pattern and practice of knowingly employing illegal aliens. Sentencing took place on July 6, 2011, in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson.
“This is a unique case because both the owner and the company itself were sentenced and fined for knowingly employing illegal aliens,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. “When employers find out that their employees are unauthorized to work in this country, they can’t continue employing them. This was an ongoing pattern that we have put to an end.”
“This is yet another example of ICE executing a criminal investigation into an employer who contributed to the magnet driving illegal immigration in the United States by knowingly violating our laws,” said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Arizona.
In mid-2007, Taylor learned that 10 of his company’s employees were Mexican citizens who lacked authorization to work or reside in the United States. Under federal law, an employer must terminate an employee after making such a discovery, but Taylor chose to continue employing them. In fact, Arizona Trailer and Taylor later submitted work-authorization applications to the U.S. Department of Labor and to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services on behalf of all 10 employees. In most of those applications, Arizona Trailer and Taylor falsely certified that the alien was not a current employee, was living in Mexico, and that authorization was appropriate because there were no qualified U.S. workers to fill the job vacancy.
The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dominic Lanza.
CASE NUMBER: 11-3184M-PHX-LOA
Avondale drophouse yields 23 illegal immigrants, DPS says
by Matt Haldane and Cale Ottens - Jul. 8, 2011 06:30 PM
The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team
Authorities rescued 23 illegal immigrants from an Avondale drophouse Friday morning, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
When police arrived at the house near 115th Avenue and Buckeye Road, people quickly ran inside the house and locked themselves in bedrooms, said Bob Bailey, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.
The home is in what appeared to be a newer Valley neighborhood of the common earth-toned, two-story homes in many communities.
"We find these (drop) houses in all parts of town," said Bart Graves, a DPS spokesman.
The state's immigration task force served a search warrant at the house around 8 a.m.
The task force's job is to "respond to drop houses where extortion and violence are prevalent," Graves said. In this case, weapons believed to belong to the smuggler were found inside the house, he said.
Authorities also discovered poor conditions. The house lacked air conditioning - a dangerous situation since temperatures in the Phoenix area are reaching above 100 degrees daily.
"These are not safe conditions for them," he said.
In addition, the immigrants had walked for miles to cross the border, Graves said.
They had access to water at the house, but because they had walked so far, two men were admitted to a hospital for foot injuries. A woman was also admitted to a hospital for other injuries relating to a health condition, Graves said. She was in serious condition.
One of the immigrants is believed to be involved with MS 13, a gang implicated in at least three homicides. DPS officials said Mario Lopez-Ramirez, 24, ran from officers as they entered the drophouse, and authorities believe he may have been the shooter in a December 2009 attempted murder in Washington, D.C.
The smuggler was also found in the house. Charges are pending.
The 23 illegal immigrants will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation to their home countries, authorities said. The immigrants came from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico.
The house had been vacant since May. Neighbors noticed suspicious activity at the house after the previous tenant had moved out, so they contacted the immigration task force, Bailey said.
Asma Malik, 56, who recently moved to Avondale from Chicago, watched as authorities went to the home. She said she hadn't noticed anything. "It was just next door," a shaken Malik said.
"The positive thing out of this is that citizens reported the suspicious activity," Malik said.
Authorities arrest 14 illegal immigrants
July 7, 2011 | 4:34 p.m.
Border Patrol agents arrested 14 illegal immigrants at El Morro beach after their panga was spotted offshore early Saturday morning.
Authorities said they believe four others fled in the panga, which was not seized. They did not have information about the four.
The boat containing the Mexican nationals was spotted about 5 a.m., said Jerry Conlin, a Border Patrol supervisor.
"There was a search, and they had to stop after a certain amount of time," he said.
The search was a joint effort involving Laguna Beach and Newport Beach police.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Undocumented Jews Live in Shadows of U.S. Society
Not the Usual Illegal Alien and Off the Communal Agenda
By Nathan Guttman
Published July 06, 2011, issue of July 15, 2011.
WASHINGTON — The Jewish community’s strong support for immigration reform is fueled largely by memories of the Jewish exodus from Europe at the turn of the 20th century and by a desire to nurture ties with newcomer immigrant communities.
But there is another group that has a stake in seeing a comprehensive immigration overhaul adopted, a group the Jewish community hardly deals with, and perhaps is ashamed of: undocumented Jews.
Exact numbers of undocumented Jews are not available, and estimates are hard to find, but activists believe there are at least several thousand Jews currently living in the shadows of society. They are Israelis who immigrated to the United States without proper papers — some joining ultra-Orthodox communities, others seeking to pursue better financial opportunities and some who have used Israel as a stepping stone on their way to America from the former Soviet Union, without obtaining the necessary immigration status. And while their numbers are minuscule in comparison with the estimated 11 million mostly from Mexico and Latin America, Israeli undocumented immigrants share a similar fate.
Yamzi Rosen has been living in the United States for nearly nine years. Rosen said she and her family moved to Brooklyn from Israel after she lost her son to a violent murder in her hometown of Netanya. The family hoped the distance would help them overcome the tragedy. The seven family members crammed into a one-bedroom apartment, and began working odd jobs for which papers were not required.
But the American dream turned out to be hard to achieve. A lawyer dealing with their request for obtaining a green card, which grants legal residence in the United States, was arrested for fraud. Meanwhile, a temporary work visa expired, and Rosen was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
Since she does not have legal status, Rosen is afraid to drive, and because she lacks health insurance, she relies solely on Jewish charities to help her deal with the large medical bills that accumulated because of her sickness. “They are tzaddikim” she said, using the Hebrew term for “righteous people” when she speaks of the Satmar Bikur Cholim charity organization that walked her through the maze of medical procedures she needed.
The Rosen family is reluctant to request any kind of welfare assistance, fearing that it will hamper their hopes to achieve a green card in the future. But most difficult, Rosen said in a recent phone conversation with the Forward, is not being able to leave the United States and visit Israel, since being undocumented ensures that she would not be allowed back in. “I just want to see my son’s grave,” she said. “Is there anything worse in life than a mother who cannot visit her son’s grave?”
There are several types of undocumented Jews living in the United States. They include Israelis who left Israel seeking a better future in America and are now living in neighborhoods with large Israeli expatriate populations in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other large cities. Of them, some are members of Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox groups that have joined their communities in the United States, and others are secular Israelis who left Israel in their 20s to try a new life. Both share the same problem: They cannot leave the United States, since they know they’ll be barred from returning, due to their immigration violations. Most of these Israelis entered the United States on tourist visas, which are usually limited to a six-month visit, but they overstayed without correcting their legal status.
“After my army service, I saw that the country won’t give me anything and that I can get a much higher salary elsewhere, so I decided to leave,” said an Israeli immigrant who asked to be identified as Sean, a first name he adopted here. Sean entered the United States on a tourist visa and joined family in New York. He quickly found work at a moving company owned by an Israeli and established his life in Brooklyn, but was disappointed to discover that the expatriate Israeli community in the United States was far from helpful and that the broader American Jewish community is “very closed.”
But Sean’s American dream has a happier end. He fell in love with an American citizen, and after marrying her he obtained a green card. Sean said, however, that even in the period when he lived as an undocumented immigrant, he had no fear. “I didn’t feel as if I am breaking the law,” he said. “I’m not a criminal.”
Another group of undocumented Israelis is Russian-speaking Jews from the former Soviet Union who left in the mass immigration that followed the collapse of the communist bloc. These emigrants wished to come to the United States but were unable to obtain immigration permits. So they chose Israel, which under its Law of Return accepts for citizenship any individual with at least one Jewish grandparent. After a short stay in Israel they moved to America and many joined family or friends here.
The third category of undocumented Jews is a more transient group: young Israelis who come to work illegally in the United States, mostly as salespersons in shopping mall vending carts. For most, this is seen as an opportunity to make some easy money to pay for their months-long trip to South America, a common destiny for Israelis after their compulsory military service. While these undocumented Israelis do not intend to immigrate, they are still viewed by American authorities as illegal aliens and are subject to deportation if caught. The American Embassy in Tel Aviv recently launched an ad campaign warning young Israelis against attempting to work illegally in America. A video clip produced by the embassy includes testimonies of Israelis who were apprehended by American authorities and put in prison with criminals as they awaited deportation.
For most undocumented Israelis in the United States, the hardship of living without papers has increased in recent years with the economic downturn, as jobs have become harder to find.
“Many of them don’t have written language skills, they don’t have a degree and they have very little work experience,” said Angela Task, a social worker with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty who helps undocumented Israelis who come to her office in Brooklyn seeking assistance. “It is difficult for anyone to find a job nowadays, and even more if you don’t have papers.” Task said that most undocumented Israelis she sees hope to marry an American citizen, since that is currently the only legal path they have to citizenship. A few have also tried to obtain special visas for religious employees who work as clergy in synagogues, as Jewish schoolteachers or as kosher slaughterers.
“A lot of the problems we see are with those who are older and are here 20 to 30 years without papers,” Task said. For these Israeli immigrants, many of them disabled, finding a job is practically impossible, and medical help is available only through clinics operated by charity organizations.
The best and only hope for undocumented Jews is the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would provide those living in the United States without papers with a path to legalization and eventually to citizenship. But the current political winds don’t favor approval of such legislation. “It is definitely in the cards for the future, but not for this Congress,” said Melanie Nezer, senior director for American policy and advocacy at the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society. Nezer explained that if a future political agreement on immigration reform is reached, it will cover the small number of undocumented Jews living in America, as well.
But this group is far from being on the agenda of the Jewish community. Undocumented Israelis in need receive support via charity groups such as the Metropolitan Council and local religious medical and financial assistance programs. But the Jewish community has not taken on the issue as part of its pro-immigration advocacy agenda.
“It is difficult to use them for advocacy because like other undocumented populations, they are largely invisible,” said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS. Still, he noted, the organized Jewish community’s drive for immigration reform will also help undocumented Israelis.
Aronoff acknowledged that the issue of Israelis who left their country in favor of America “does create some philosophical discomfort” for the broader Jewish community. But that is a matter that must be addressed eventually by the local communities in which the undocumented Israelis live, he said.
Letter reveals complaints about treatment at Wake jail
Reporter: Stacy Davis
Posted: 9:06 a.m. 7/7/2011
RALEIGH, N.C. — The federal government is investigating allegations that people detained at the Wake County jail as part of an immigration enforcement program were mistreated, according to a letter released Thursday by a state civil liberties group.
Margo Schlanger, an officer for civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, notified the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union last month that the federal agency is investigating 57 complaints made by people detained at the jail in 2009 and 2010.
"The issues you raise are very important to us," Schlanger wrote in the letter, which goes on to say that the purpose of the investigation is to determine whether the complaints indicate issues that need to be addressed by the agency and not to provide legal remedies or damages for people making the complaints.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, whose office operates the jail, said his 2-year-old partnership with immigration officials passed a federal inspection this year and that he's willing to stand by it.
"I have nothing to hide. Anyone is welcome to come here and look at our operation," he said. "I’ve said that from Day 1. If we do have a problem, I can assure you it will be addressed"
Harrison said he first learned about the investigation from a reporter Wednesday night and that Homeland Security never notified him about the complaint.
"I don't believe that's happening, and that's why if we get a complaint, we look into it. If it is happening, we need to know," he said. "That's why I hate that it's taken this long for somebody to give me this information."
The ACLU submitted its complaints to Homeland Security in April 2010 and was informed of the investigation in a letter dated June 6, 2011.
This is the first time the homeland security agency has investigated a North Carolina jail for complaints regarding the 287(g) program, state ACLU Legal Director Katy Parker said.
"The 287(g) program is a good program, and I stand behind it," Harrison said. "But if there’s any fallacy in it or there's something people don’t understand, or there's complaints, we want to address them."
The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating allegations that the Alamance County Sheriff's Office has targeted Latinos as part of its 287(g) program. Sheriff Terry Johnson has said he's confident the department has done nothing wrong.
The 287(g) program — named for the section of federal law governing it — allows participating local police agencies to enforce federal immigration law. Dozens of police departments take part in the program nationwide.
The program allows local police to determine the immigration status of prisoners in custody and hold them under federal detainers if they're found to be violating immigration law.
"We had lots of complaints about people not being provided proper interpreters, people not being told that they could contact their consulate, people being forced to sign voluntary removal proceeding forms, which is really significant and scary," Parker said.
The complaints, gathered by volunteers who interviewed people detained at the jail, allege racial profiling, verbal abuse, excessive force and failure to inform detainees of rights, including the right to contact a lawyer and to remain silent. The allegations were about both Wake County jail personnel and Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents working there.
"The cop threw me to the ground, and I skinned my knee," read one of the complaints, with the detainee's name blacked out. "My shoulder still hurts a little when I raise my arm."
Other people complained they were denied access to interpreters, forced to sign documents they didn't understand and mocked by both local officers and ICE agents.
"ICE didn't give me an interpreter, and I didn't understand very much," another complaint says. "I told them that I wasn't understanding, but they just laughed and told me to sign. But I don't read or write well, so the ICE officer signed for me."
The ACLU is concerned that it might be hard to find many of the people who made the complaints, since Homeland Security opened an investigation more than year after the ACLU submitted the complaints, Parker said. Many of the complainants said they were forced to sign voluntary removal papers and have likely been deported, she said.
"It will be interesting to see what the investigation uncovers. It may uncover nothing, because it's so late after the complaints were submitted, or there may still be concerns with the program," she said.
"I think the investigation is worthwhile just to make sure that the program is operating the way it's supposed to be operating," she continued.
The ACLU opposes state and local governments getting involved in enforcing federal immigration laws, Parker said.
"The 287(g) program is designed to foster relationship between federal and local law enforcement to do immigration work, but immigration is solely a federal issue," she said. "Our position is that the local governments and state governments ought to be out of the immigration game."
A Cameron Park couple is behind bars after authorities allegedly learned that they were using their home to smuggle children from Central America.
Feds bust child smuggling ring in Cameron Park
by Sergio Chapa
Posted: 07.07.2011 at 5:54 PM
U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 28-year-old Donato Alvear, Jr. and 27-year-old Marisol Maldonado on Wednesday.
Court records show that the investigation started when Maldonado tried to smuggle a 6-year-old boy from El Salvador at Brownsville’s Gateway International Bridge.
Maldonado allegedly used an birth certificate and said the boy was her nephew but an investigation by customs officers revealed otherwise.
ICE agents went to Maldonado’s home of Gregory Avenue in Cameron Park where they found another 8-year-old boy from El Salvador and a 10-year-old boy from Honduras.
Alvear, who was identified as Maldonado’s husband, allegedly told investigators that he was supposed to get paid $300 dollars to take the children to Houston.
Both Alvear and Maldonado appeared before U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Ronald Morgan in Brownsville on Thursday.
Judge Morgan gave both Alvear and Maldonado $20,000 dollars bonds and ordered them to appear at a court hearing on Tuesday.
FBI joins effort to identify undocumented aliens
Advanced technology is being deployed and shared by federal agencies to identify immigrants who slipped into the U.S., according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
Posted on Thursday, 07.07.11
The FBI plays a role in a controversial, nationwide immigration-control program known as Secure Communities through which a Department of Homeland Security agency identifies foreign nationals booked at local jails, according to immigrant-rights activists who obtained internal documents from the Obama administration.
An analysis of the documents by the activists suggests that the immigration-control program, which operates in Florida, is part of a broader FBI initiative to collect personal information on arrested foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. Secure Communities is overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The documents released by activists are the first public indication that the FBI is involved with Secure Communities, and indicate that information collected at booking centers is being compiled for the broader data-gathering project.
The groups that released the documents, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, said the broader project is an FBI program dubbed Next Generation Identification, or NGI, that includes not only fingerprint matches but iris scans and facial-recognition technology.
“NGI is the next generation Big Brother,” said Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the groups that released the documents. “It’s a back-door route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet but within the body itself.”
The other groups involved in the documents’ release include the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic.
ICE referred calls to the FBI, and the FBI said it had no immediate comment. An FBI website contains details about the NGI program. It says NGI is an effort to speed the identification of wanted criminals, terrorism suspects, sex offenders and “other persons of special interest,” but the site does not mention Secure Communities.
However, one of the documents released by the groups, marked FBI-SC — possibly referring to Secure Communities — says that the ICE program “is simply the first of a number of biometric interoperability systems being brought on line by the . . . Next Generation Identification (NGI) initiative.”
Another document, a staff paper from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services, says the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security worked to share information as a result of post-Sept. 11 congressional mandates.
As a result, the document said, the FBI and Homeland Security in 2008 signed an agreement to share database services. Secure Communities began as a pilot program in 2008.
After Secure Communities was established, immigrant-rights activists began voicing concerns that instead of leading to the identification of dangerous criminals and terrorists, the program was snaring an increasing number of noncriminal undocumented immigrants arrested for minor traffic violations.
Several states and jurisdictions, including New York and Illinois, have expressed their intent to withdraw from the program or not participate in it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement last month that Secure Communities had failed to deport serious felons. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has not expressed objections to Secure Communities.
ICE insists that the program has been successful in deporting dangerous foreign criminals.
“Through April 30, 2011, more than 77,000 immigrants convicted of crimes, including more than 28,000 convicted of aggravated felony (level 1) offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children were removed from the United States after identification through Secure Communities,” ICE says on its Secure Communities website.
Also last month, ICE chief John Morton announced a series of reforms to Secure Communities intended to ensure that noncriminal undocumented immigrants are not the priority of the program.
(Send your news tips to @ICE_Raid_Report on Twitter!)
TIRRC Challenges Teenager’s Deportation and 287(g) Program
Thursday, July 07th, 2011, by Bridgit Bowden
A Tennessee Immigrant Rights group is highlighting the case of a Nashville teenager to challenge a program that allows the Sheriff’s office to check immigration status on a federal database.
18-year-old Mercedes Gonzales was pulled over for speeding a week before her high school graduation. After she was arrested for driving without a license, she was found to be an undocumented immigrant by a 287(g) screening. She is currently awaiting a court date before a deportation judge.
Amelia Post of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition was among those protesting the possible deportation in front of the Sheriff’s office. She says 287(g) punishes people who haven’t committed serious crimes.
“We’ve seen that 287(g) ends up targeting students, hardworking people, families, and that’s not what the people of Nashville want.”
Davidson County Sherriff’s Office spokesperson Karla Weikal says that 287(g) isn’t supposed to focus on serious criminals only.
“It never was brought to Nashville under the premise of the worst of the worst, and that’s something that has been repeated among those who would rather see it that way. But that’s just not the case and never was.”
The teenager’s attorney says they are petitioning the Department of Homeland Security to try and stop her deportation and ultimately end Nashville’s participation in 287(g).
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Boulder woman accused of extortion after fender-bender
Police: Abigail Jane Suber threatened driver with call to immigration authorities
By Erica Meltzer Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 07/06/2011 04:54:42 PM M
A Boulder woman has been charged with felony extortion after police said she threatened a Longmont couple with calling immigration authorities if they didn't pay her money after a car accident in which she was at fault.
The case started back in April when Abigail Jane Suber, 28, of Boulder, and Hector Holguin-Perez, 41, of Longmont, were involved in a minor car accident near the intersection of 24th and Pearl streets in Boulder.
Holguin-Perez and his wife, Irma Hernandez, told Boulder police that Suber threatened to call immigration authorities if they did not admit fault in the accident and pay her $400. Later, Suber demanded $800, they said.
Suber said she offered to settle the matter privately at the request of Holguin-Perez and Hernandez, only to have them stop payment on the checks.
In a written statement she gave to police, Hernandez said she got a call from her husband, who does not speak English, that a woman had hit him with her truck. Holguin-Perez then asked his wife if she could come to the scene because he didn't understand what the woman was saying.
Hernandez said that when she arrived, Suber asked for Hernandez's driver's license, wrote down her information, then told her Hernandez should say that she was driving and that it was her fault. If Hernandez didn't pay Suber $400, she would call immigration, the report said.
Hernandez said Suber asked her if she wanted her 5-year-old son to grow up without his father and said she pays a lot every month on her truck, a 2011 Toyota Tacoma.
According to the police report, Holguin-Perez had insurance for his Chevrolet van, but no driver's license. His immigration status is not clear.
Hernandez wrote two post-dated checks to Suber for a total of $400, she told police.
In an interview with the Camera, Hernandez said she didn't feel good about the incident because she knew the accident wasn't her husband's fault. She called an attorney she knew through her work cleaning houses. He advised her to cancel the checks and talk to police.
The attorney referred her to Brandt Milstein, an attorney who frequently represented immigrants who haven't been paid for their work. He put her in touch with the Boulder County District Attorney's Office, where attorneys asked her to make a police report.
Colorado's extortion statutes explicitly include threatening to report someone to immigration as a crime.
Hernandez told police Suber became angry after she canceled the checks and demanded $800 for the repairs, plus $30 for the canceled checks.
Suber left a voicemail message for Hernandez confirming her address and saying she was sending police and immigration to get her husband, Hernandez told officers. Hernandez saved the message and gave it to police, the report said.
Suber could not be reached for comment, but in a written statement included in the police report, she said no blackmail occurred. Suber said Hernandez and Holguin-Perez wanted to settle the matter privately without involving the police because Holguin-Perez is not here legally, then stopped payment on the checks without warning her. That caused Suber to be fined by her bank.
Suber said she told Hernandez she was seeking legal advice about the stopped checks and gave her another chance to work it out.
"I then spoke to her about having the police involved and speaking to an immigration lawyer," Suber wrote. "I feel that I was lied to and taken advantage (of). He had no right to be driving on a public road. He has no license and is therefore at fault."
According to the police report, Holguin-Perez said he backed up out of a parking lot and was pulling forward when Suber, who was backing up, struck him on the rear passenger side of his van.
Suber told police both vehicles were backing up when they struck each other.
The damage to both vehicles was consistent with Holguin-Perez's account, Officer Sharon Ramos wrote in the report.
"The damage was minimal in that the bumper was very slightly pushed in on the left side and very hard to notice," the report said of Suber's truck.
There were noticeable scrapes and a dent on Holguin-Perez's vehicle.
A warrant was issued for Suber's arrest on May 27. She was booked into the Boulder County Jail on June 20. She was formally charged with extortion last week.
Boulder police spokeswoman Kim Kobel said if Holguin-Perez did not have a license, he would have been ticketed -- if police had been called to the scene of the original accident. However, the felony accusation against Suber supercedes a traffic infraction.
"To charge the victim of a felony with a misdemeanor traffic violation would discourage other crime victims from coming forward in the future," Kobel said.
Boulder police did not investigate Holguin-Perez's immigration status because he was not arrested, Kobel said. Under state law, Boulder makes a report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement only when a person is both under arrest and there is probable cause to believe they are in the country illegally.
Hernandez said she had been afraid of Suber, but she is glad the police took the matter seriously.
"People need to speak up and not stay quiet," she told the Camera in Spanish. "The police are here to help people. I've lived in Boulder for 21 years, so I had confidence they would do their job well."
A hearing in the case is scheduled for July 18.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Toddler killed in Gulf Freeway accident
By Chris Paschenko
The Daily News
Published July 5, 2011
DICKINSON — A toddler from McKinney died after a wreck that also injured her mother and two motorcycle riders, authorities said Monday.
Tonantzin Scarlet Gonzales-Camacho died Sunday evening, nearly two weeks before her second birthday. She was in the back seat of a 2004 Ford F150 pickup with her mother, Blanca Camacho-Tellez, 27, Dickinson police said. Authorities are investigating whether the child was in a safety seat.
The wreck involving the pickup and a 2004 Harley Davidson motorcycle occurred at 6:26 p.m. Sunday in the 3800 block of Interstate 45 North, which was congested with holiday vacationers leaving the Gulf Coast.
The motorcycle riders, Roshun Flores, 30, of Texas City, and Nicole Flores, 36, of La Marque, were taken by helicopter to the University of Texas Medical Branch. Nicole Flores was admitted under a different last name, but she was listed in serious condition. Roshun Flores was listed in good condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Gonzales-Camacho and Camacho-Tellez’s were taken to Clear Lake Regional Hospital in Webster and later transferred to Memorial Hermann, police said. Camacho-Tellez’s condition wasn’t immediately known.
The wreck occurred when the pickup lost control and struck an inside lane retaining wall in the north lanes of traffic. It then traveled across all lanes of traffic and hit the outside retaining wall, police said in a statement.
“The motorcycle slid to keep from hitting the vehicle and came to a stop against the pickup,” Dickinson police Sgt. Dean Boyd said.
The freeway was closed about three hours while authorities investigated the wreck and because of another medical helicopter’s mechanical failure, which left the chopper stranded in the main lanes.
The driver of the truck, Benjamin A. Gonzales, 21, had the same McKinney address as the mother and child. Police were investigating what caused the wreck, Boyd said.
Gonzales passed a field sobriety test performed by a state trooper, but he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge that accuses him of driving without a license, Boyd said. Gonzales remained at the Dickinson City Jail on Monday on a hold placed upon him by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Boyd said.
Gonzales willingly gave a blood sample at the police station, Boyd said. The Galveston County District Attorney’s office sent a prosecutor to the scene, and the incident would be presented to a grand jury, Boyd said.
Gonzales and front-seat passenger, Antonio Vera, 22, were uninjured, Boyd said.
Movers caught in state sting
4:11 PM, Jul. 5, 2011
Bill Bowman | Staff Writer
BRIDGEWATER — Lazar Berkat was philosophical about the predicament in which he found himself.
The Glen Ridge resident on June 28 had just been pulled into a parking lot off Van Veghten Drive where he was greeted by a New Jersey State Trooper and investigators from the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
Berkat was one of 17 unlicensed movers who were caught last week in a four-day sting operation codenamed “Operation Mother’s Attic.” Those 17 and an additional eight moving companies which did not show up at the sting site face fines of $2,500 each for either operating an unlicensed moving company, or using trucks in their operations which are not registered with DCA.
Included in that list were three companies from the central New Jersey area: A Van and a Hand of North Plainfield, Premiere Relocation Services of Edison and and a company that simply advertised as “James,” operating out of Asbury Park.
The companies were contacted by DCA investigators posing as consumers who needed items moved from a self-storage facility to a house. They were told to show up at specific times from June 27 through June 30.
The companies were contacted through ads on Craig’s List and other websites, according to a DCA spokesman.
Berkat was one of the 17 who kept his appointment.
“Of course, it’s good to be licensed,” Berkat said with a smile as he reviewed the material he was given by the DCA investigator.
The $2,500 fine facing each mover caught in the sting would be halved if they license their businesses and register their vehicles within 30 days of the violation.
State law requires that all companies that provide point-to-point moving services within New Jersey be licensed through the DCA and carry the proper insurances.
“Last year alone, the Division of Consumer Affairs received nearly 160 consumer complaints against moving companies,” Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in a press release about the operation. “In many instances, predatory movers arbitrarily jacked up the total cost of a move by as much as 1,000 percent over bogus estimates, and then held hostage consumers’ belongings until the outrageous billing demands were met.”
“The bad actors don’t just harm consumers – they harm the reputation of an entire industry,” he said in the release. “By requiring movers to be licensed, we’re requiring accountability.”
Berkat was caught in the net at about 2:40 p.m. on the operation’s second day. The sting that day was started at about 10 a.m.
Berkat said he had just recently begun operating as a mover and was not aware that a license was required.
“I work for my kids to help them,” he said.
Now that he knows he needs to be licensed, Berkat said, he’s happy to do so.
“I don’t want to do this again,” he said.
Not every driver was as easygoing as Berkat.
A driver who did not want to be identified was pulled into the lot about two hours before Berkat, driving a truck emblazoned with electronics retailer P.C. Richard and Son’s logo.
The driver worked for Premiere Relocation Services, which contracts with P.C. Richard to drive P.C. Richard-owned trucks.
Trooper Marc Passarella -- one of two troopers assigned to the detail -- later said that the driver finished his P.C. Richard deliveries, then decided to use the truck to make some extra money on the side.
The trooper said he spoke to a P.C. Richard representative who said the company “didn’t want to press charges, they were more concerned about getting their truck back.”
DCA spokesman Neal Buccino said that although Premiere is a licensed moving company, a citation was issued because the P.C. Richard truck was not licensed for moving.
Trooper Michael Miller was also on hand to do truck inspections and make sure the drivers’ credentials were in order.
It was one such credential check that resulted in the arrest of an unidentified moving company employee on an outstanding warrant from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The man was a passenger in a truck driven by Francisco Belmonte of Bayonne. Miller said a routine check of his identity resulted in a message that he was to be held for ICE.
Belmonte, who said he was aware that he was supposed to have a license to be a mover, but never completed the application, said he had no idea that his friend was wanted on immigration charges.
As for his citation, Belmonte said he deserved it.
“You break the law, you have to pay,” he said.
Two movers who attempted to flee the sting were cornered in a nearby parking lot, Buccino said in a press release about the operation.
The stings accomplished their purpose, Calcagni said on June 28. The director was there to witness the operation.
“What you’ve seen here today underscores the importance of knowing who you’re hiring,” he said.
Calcagni said he hoped the citations would send a message to other unlicensed movers in the state.
“That’s really the whole point of this,” he said.
“If you’re going to operate as a mover in New Jersey, you have to comply with our licensure laws,” Calcagni said.
Freeport police charge man with unlawful sexual contact
By David Hench
Posted: 6:11 PM 7/5/2011
A 61-year-old man from China faces charges of unlawful sexual contact following his arrest in Freeport over the weekend.
Qun Liu was arrested after he was allegedly seen inappropriately touching a 7-year-old family member on Main Street in Freeport Saturday afternoon. The behavior was reported by separate, independent witnesses and confirmed with interviews with the victim, police said.
Qun Liu is being held on $50,000 bail. Officials with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement were alerted to the case because the man is a foreign national and speaks only Mandarin Chinese.
The man and family members were vacationing in Maine
Myanmar envoy seeks asylum, U.S. pressure on rulers
By Paul Eckert
WASHINGTON | Tue Jul 5, 2011 6:33pm EDT
The No. 2 diplomat in Myanmar's embassy in Washington is seeking asylum in the United States because the reports in which he outlined his government's failures have put him in danger, he said on Tuesday.
Career diplomat Kyaw Win sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter before dawn July 4 spelling out his disillusionment with the lack of reform in the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, he told Reuters.
"Sometimes when you report the facts, they don't like it," Win said in a telephone interview, describing his efforts to persuade the junta that has ruled Myanmar for five decades that their repression and corruption hurt their country's image.
"They would write back: 'why are you doing these kind of things?'" Win said of officials in the capital, Naypyidaw.
Myanmar's ruling military junta handed power to a nominally civilian government in March after elections last November that were widely dismissed as a sham. The elections were intended to create the impression of a democratic transition after 49 years of direct army rule.
Win said he sought "to tell them that what they are doing is not right and we need work out some way to put our country together."
"Because of their lack of exposure and education, they have no capacity to understand what's happening in the world," he said.
The 31-year veteran of his country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote Clinton that "my reports suggesting of actions to improve bilateral relation(s) between Myanmar and the U.S. have been continually rejected and resulted in my being deemed dangerous by the government."
"Because of this, I am also convinced and live in fear that I will be prosecuted for my actions, efforts and beliefs when I return to Naypyidaw after completing my tour of duty here," read the letter, made available by a Burmese exile group and confirmed as accurate by Win.
NO REAL CHANGES
State Department officials confirmed receipt of the letter, but declined further comment. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said it does not comment on asylum cases.
Win, 59, said he was safe in a suburb of Washington with his wife and two adult sons. He tendered his resignation to his embassy at the same time he wrote Clinton, he said.
Win, the second Myanmar deputy chief of mission to seek asylum in Washington since 2005, echoed critics who say the civilian government is under the tight grip of the same generals who plundered the country's economy and stifled political freedom.
"We are told of things changing, but there's nothing there," he said.
"Two or three generations are already lost," lamented Win. "How can we keep going like this? We can't."
Win arrived at his post in 2008 charged with building bridges between his isolated country and U.S. society.
Now he favors getting tougher with the powers that rule Myanmar and control its resources, tightening some of the sanctions Western states have long imposed on the country.
"We can pressure them to do many things, with specifically targeted sanctions on the government officials and the people who work with them, the businessmen and cronies," said Win.
"Interest of Justice" Leads Immigration Judge To Reopen Case, Ask About "Same-Sex Spouses" and Visas (Metro Weekly)
"Interest of Justice" Leads Immigration Judge To Reopen Case, Ask About "Same-Sex Spouses" and Visas
Posted by Chris Geidner |
July 5, 2011 6:30 PM |
A Maryland immigration judge issued an order on June 24 reopening Rodrigo Martinez's immigration case "in the interest of justice." The unusual move -- or at least a footnote in the order -- reflects the uncertain nature of immigration cases for bi-national, same-sex couples in the wake of rapid changes regarding the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The order reopening his case, a copy of which was obtained by Metro Weekly, cancels Martinez's pending order of removal. Martinez, who is legally married to Edwin Echegoyen, narrowly avoided deportation earlier this year when a stay of the removal order was granted.
The reopening of the case came sua sponte -- or on the judge's own accord -- according to the order, which Immigration Judge Lisa Dornell wrote was being done to give Martinez "an opportunity to present additional evidence on country conditions in support of an application for withholding of removal under the [Immigration & Naturalization Act]."
Dornell then wrote in a footnote to the order, "The parties shall also be prepared to address current policy and/or legal developments relating to the ability of same-sex spouses to benefit from visa petitions filed by United States citizen spouses."
The couple is one of several bi-national, same-sex married couples who have received attention this year, particularly after the Department of Justice's Feb. 23 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act -- which has prevented the Department of Homeland Security from considering green card applications based on marriage for those couples -- is unconstitutional and will no longer be defended by DOJ in court.
Martinez's attorney, Lavi Soloway, tells Metro Weekly, "Our argument is that prosecutorial discretion is proper in these cases in large measure because the administration's own position is that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional."
Following the expansive DOJ filing on July 1 in Karen Golinski's case seeking equal health insurance coverage for her wife as would be given to an opposite-sex spouse, Soloway -- who started Stop the Deportations in 2010 with his law partner -- says of the change from the Feb. 23 decision to the July 1 brief, "That has been expanded from one letter to a 31-page brief. It's just becoming abundantly clear that the administration is aligned with our side and with the side of the plaintiffs in the DOMA cases.
"And, in the context of immigration court, it has discretion to protect couples while still enforcing DOMA," he says, adding, "The Golinski brief really strengthens our request. It's hard to argue back ... there's really significant meat on the bone with the Golinski brief. We're going to look forward to having that conversation with opposing counsel with the Golinski brief as yet another point of discussion."
Martinez and Echegoyen are not alone. In recent months, several same-sex couples -- many of whom are represented by Soloway and are part of the Stop the Deportations project -- have had deportation proceedings continued or canceled, including Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan citizen, and his husband, Josh Vandiver.
As The New York Times reported this past week, "federal officials ... canceled the deportation of a Venezuelan man in New Jersey who is married to an American man." There, "Jane H. Minichiello, the chief counsel at the Newark office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Homeland Security Department, inform[ed] [Soloway] that the agency had agreed to his request to close the deportation proceedings. According to Mr. Soloway, Ms. Minichiello said pursuing Mr. Velandia's deportation 'is not an enforcement priority at this time.'"
Of the cases -- and the couples' new-found success at getting immigration judges to listen -- Soloway said, "I think that these individuals are making the right arguments at the right time.
"I think we'll see more of this, but I also think there will be times when opposing counsel [with DHS] won't necessarily agree. But, we certainly would hope that we'll have abundant opportunity to bring forward all elements of the argument -- including the Golinski brief and any future briefs -- to persuade the other side, at the very least, to agree to continuances [to prevent deportations]."
PRINCETON AREA: Police blotter
DATE POSTED: Thursday, June 30, 2011 7:06 PM EDT
Elvis Chavez, 51, of Bound Brook, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. At 4:45 p.m. on June 23, police stopped Mr. Chavez on Scudders Mill Road. He was also charged with failing to obey a traffic signal, reckless driving, driving without a license and driving while intoxicated within a school zone. Due to an immigration violation, Mr. Chavez was lodged in the Middlesex County Jail on an immigrations and customs enforcement detention.
Published: Tuesday, July 05, 2011, 2:54 PM
By Stephen Smith/ The News of Cumberland County
* Jose L. Garcia, 23, of Church Street, was arrested Sunday and charged with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, a razor, for an unlawful purpose, and unlawful possession of a weapon. All three charges stemmed from a domestic violence incident and police would not release any further information. He was also in the country illegally. He was lodged in the Cumberland County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail and on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer.
* Julio Leos, 30, of Oak Street, was arrested Monday and charged with violation of a restraining order. The charge stemmed from a domestic violence incident and police would not release any further information. He was also in the country illegally. He was lodged in the Cumberland County Jail in lieu of $5,000 bail and on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer.
Illegal immigrant at center of WR lottery ticket dispute granted voluntary departure (Macon Telegraph)
Illegal immigrant at center of WR lottery ticket dispute granted voluntary departure
By BECKY PURSER
Tuesday, Jul. 05, 2011
WARNER ROBINS -- An illegal immigrant who filed a civil lawsuit over a $750,000 winning lottery ticket was granted a 60-day voluntary departure Tuesday.
Jose Antonio Cua-Toc, 25, of Bonaire, who is also at the center of a criminal case over alleged terroristic threats in connection with the same lottery ticket, is being held in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin.
He had been jailed in Houston County on Nov. 27 for allegedly threatening lottery winner Erick Cervantes and his family. Cua-Toc threatened “to kill each of them and their children if they did not give him some of the lottery winnings,” according to a Warner Robins police report.
While jailed in Houston County, Cua-Toc’s attorneys filed suit against Cervantes and his wife, Sonia, contending Cua-Toc was the rightful owner of the Georgia Lottery ticket, purchased in Warner Robins, and that Cervantes claimed the winnings on Cua-Toc’s behalf -- but then kept the winnings.
The voluntary departure, which is a relief from removal, was granted at Cua-Toc’s deportation hearing, his Atlanta attorney Julio E. Moreno said Tuesday by telephone.
A removal order would have meant deportation for Cua-Toc and would have barred him from any legal attempts to enter the U.S. for 10 years, Moreno said. Cua-Toc now has until Sept. 6 to leave the U.S. voluntarily while under confinement.
Moreno explained Cua-Toc is required to provide documentation of having secured and paid for an airline ticket to his native home of Guatemala. Once that is arranged, ICE will then escort Cua-Toc to the airport to board his flight.
The voluntary departure is beneficial to Cua-Toc because it buys Moreno time to continue pursuing a U-Visa. A U-Visa would allow Cua-Toc to temporarily stay in the U.S. and place him on track to get his green card for permanent residence within a few years.
“If the U-Visa is granted prior to his departure, he may be able to remain in the U.S. as I will file a motion to reopen,” Moreno said in an e-mail. “If it is granted after he has to leave the U.S., then he may be allowed to re-enter the U.S. with the U-Visa.”
In addition, the voluntary departure order gives attorneys handling the civil case time to complete depositions and obtain any evidence needed from Cua-Toc should he have to leave the country before the U-Visa is resolved, Moreno said.
Herb Wells of Perry, one of the attorneys representing Cua-Toc on the civil case, and Kelly Burke, a Warner Robins attorney representing Erick and Sonia Cervantes, previously have said taped depositions with Cua-Toc are expected to be taken while he is in Lumpkin. Also, Burke has said he doesn’t expect a U-Visa to be granted.
Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig has placed the criminal case on the back burner pending the ICE outcome, having noted he can always take the case before a grand jury if desired.
Smuggler arrested after desert deaths
Posted: Jul 1, 2011 3:27 PM
SELLS - A Mexican citizen tracked down by U.S. Border Patrol agents is facing multiple federal counts related to human smuggling resulting in death following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations
Marcos Soto-Mendoza, 41, is accused of leading a group of five illegal aliens through the desert on the Tohono O'odham Nation, abandoning two of them to die after they succumbed to dehydration. A concerned citizen who had encountered one member of the smuggled group called Border Patrol agents from the Ajo Station to request assistance. Agents responded to the scene and found two deceased individuals in the desert approximately 2.5 miles west of the Village of Pisinemo. The Border Patrol was then able to locate Soto and rescue the remaining aliens, who were all in need of medical assistance.
"Human smugglers are willing to risk their ‘customers' lives in the brutal heat of the Sonoran Desert," said Rodney Irby, assistant special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Sells. "Unfortunately, these inhumane practices all too often end in tragedies like this. At least in this case, the families of the deceased will know that someone will be held accountable for the deaths of their loved ones."
This arrest and prosecution closely follows a similar incident from June 23, when Border Patrol agents apprehended Gaspar Osorio-Carbajal, 37, after one of the aliens he is accused of smuggling through the desert also succumbed to the excessive desert heat. Osorio is also facing charges of human smuggling resulting in death for that incident.
Border Patrol wrapup
Posted Jul 5, 2011, 4:33 pm
Janet Rose Jackman
A summary of Border Patrol activities in the Tucson Sector since Friday, provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection:
On Friday, Ajo Station agents apprehended a 30-year-old Mexican national. An Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System check revealed the subject was convicted in New York in 2009 for acting in a manner to injure a child younger than 17. The person was being prosecuted for illegal entry.
On Saturday, Tucson Station agents apprehended a 26-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico who admitted to being a member of Sureño 13 gang. The man was being processed for removal to Mexico.
Also on Saturday, Tucson Station agents apprehended a 23-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico who admitted to being a member of the Sureño 13 gang and was being prosecuted under Operation Streamline, the ‘zero tolerance’ program targeting anyone who crosses the border illegally.
On Sunday, Naco Station agents apprehended a 20-year-old Mexican national for illegally entering the United States. Using IAFIS, agents discovered the man had two convictions in Cook County, Ill. for marijuana possession. He was being prosecuted under Operation Streamline.
Also on Sunday, Nogales agents conducting checkpoint operations on Interstate 19 arrested a U.S. citizen for transporting two illegal immigrants in the trunk of his vehicle. The 24-year-old man is being prosecuted on federal human smuggling and endangerment charges.
On Monday, Casa Grande agents apprehended a 30-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico who admitted he was affiliated with the Sureño 13 gang. The man was being processed for removal from the U.S.
Also on Monday, Nogales agents apprehended a 23-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico. During an IAFIS check, agents discovered he had prior convictions for sex with a minor and false imprisonment. The man was being prosecuted for illegal entry.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Cameras foil illegal border crossings at river
1:32 AM, Jul. 2, 2011
BY TRESA BALDAS
DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
The Czech in the Speedo wasn't a first.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) -- which is deporting a man to the Czech Republic after he was caught this week trying to swim into the U.S. from Canada -- says illegal immigrants have been trying to sneak across the Detroit and St. Clair rivers since Prohibition.
They've tried to swim across, zoom in by Jet Ski or drift in by boat -- the most popular method, agents say.
The difference now, though, is Big Brother has a better view of their tactics.
Last June, the CBP installed a $20-million surveillance system along a 34-mile stretch of the St. Clair River, where a network of cameras and 11 towers have foiled at least four human smuggling attempts. The cases involve immigrants from Israel, India and Ireland, all of whom tried to sneak in by boat.
In one case, cameras saw a boat drop a person off near a restaurant in Algonac in October. The individual turned out to be a previously deported illegal immigrant.
"People will continue to try to get in. We can't stop that," agent Chris Grogan said. "But we are doing whatever we can do to stop them. They realize that we're there, and we're going to get 'em."
On Wednesday, Algonac fisherman Brad Pedersen, 26, reeled in an illegal immigrant hiding in the St. Clair River. Pedersen was fishing with a buddy for walleye when he spotted what looked like a stump. It turned out to be a backpack.
"We got a little closer, and attached to the backpack was a Czechoslovakian guy wearing a Speedo," Pederson said. "We thought he was dead at first because he was hiding. He came up. He said he was just swimming."
Some attempts to get across the river have ended tragically.
For example, an Albanian woman and her 23-year-old son tried to use Jet Skis to get into the U.S. across the Detroit River in 2005. The son's Jet Ski capsized, and he drowned.
Federal authorities note that Michigan, with all of its waterways large and small, is a magnet for immigrants looking for ways to creep in and out of the country. Finding them is no easy feat, they note.
"It's a very complex system. ... You have lakes that are akin to seas -- they're humongous. And then there are rivers that in the winter months you can walk across," said Kyle Niemi, a chief petty officer with the 9th U.S. Coast Guard District in Cleveland, which covers Michigan's waterways. "It's a fragile system."
Larger human smuggling operations try to take advantage of it, said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, which investigates smuggling networks.
"People need to be careful," Moskowitz said. "Not only do they face us, but they face some very real personal dangers."
Bordentown raid ends alleged extortion plot; seven other people found in truck on Turnpike (The Trenton Times)
Bordentown raid ends alleged extortion plot; seven other people found in truck on Turnpike
Published: Saturday, July 02, 2011, 7:23 AM
By Alex Zdan/The Times
TRENTON — A frantic call from a distraught Trenton mother this week put city police on an international kidnapping case that led to the safe return of a 15-year-old Guatemalan girl and the discovery of seven illegal aliens in a truck along the New Jersey Turnpike, police said.
Two men were arrested and charged with extorting the teen’s mother through a series of phone calls in which they allegedly demanded thousands of dollars for her daughter’s safe return. The men were arrested Wednesday afternoon after a sting operation in Bordentown Township that concluded an intense 18-hour investigation spearheaded by two city detectives, police said yesterday.
The detectives, Sgt. Jim Dellaira and Sgt. Robert Rios, took the case late Tuesday, when the mother who was allegedly being extorted called police seeking assistance. She told them she believed her daughter had been kidnapped in Texas and that the kidnappers were making monetary demands via phone for her daughter’s safe return.
“She also reported that her daughter was being abused and was hungry and frightened,” Sgt. Tom McDonough, a police spokesman, said in a press release yesterday.
The woman had several phone contacts with the alleged kidnappers, police said. As their investigation proceeded, the detectives found the city resident had paid to have her daughter brought into the U.S. from Guatemala. Once the girl arrived in Texas, she was met by two men who were demanding the mother pay large sums of money over a period of several days so her daughter could be brought to Trenton, police said.
She made the payments out of fear for her daughter’s life, but the girl was never delivered.
As Dellaira and Rios interviewed the woman early Wednesday, the kidnappers called once again. The mother made plans to meet them at a truck stop near Exit 7 in Bordentown Township to make the final payment, police said.
“It was a sting,” Lt. Steve Varn said yesterday.
Rios, Dellaira, and Sgt. Rick Rivera came along with the mother to the drop-off point, as did agents with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Marlton. Five miles south of the exit, authorities watched as the payment was made, police said. Then, they moved in.
Two men were taken into custody: Jose A. Luis-Hernandez, a 27-year-old Honduran, and a man who identified himself as 25-year-old Eddie Garcia but had no documentation to back up his identity.
The teenager and her mother were reunited at the scene. The girl was interviewed, but Varn said he was not sure if she had been released. He declined to comment on whether the mother’s fears of abuse were founded, but said the girl did not need to be transported to a hospital.
While the 15-year-old is apparently in the U.S. illegally, the mother’s immigration status is unclear. Varn said city police are focusing on the extortion investigation and will leave immigration matters to federal authorities.
“That’s something that’s going to end up being beyond our control,” he said of the immigration issue. “The important thing for us was the daughter was in danger and we had to act on that.”
Inside the truck at the arrest scene, the agents found seven other illegal aliens from various countries. They were headed for various drop-off points, McDonough said.
The discovery was completely unexpected, Varn said. Police did not know yesterday whether the families of the people in the truck were being extorted. Homeland Security officials will process the seven people found in the truck. Immigration authorities will handle that part of the investigation, police said.
Luis-Hernandez was charged with extortion and detained by immigration authorities, while the man claiming to be Garcia was charged with theft by extortion as a John Doe. Both may soon face federal charges, Varn said.
Trenton police and ICE are continuing the investigation.
Danbury man held on immigration detainer after DUI arrest
Updated 11:25 p.m., Saturday, July 2, 2011
DANBURY -- A city man was held on a federal immigration detainer after being arrested on a drunk driving charge early Saturday morning.
According to police records, Maynor Morales, 35, of Balmforth Avenue, was stopped by police at around 12:58 a.m. Saturday and charged with driving under the influence, driving without a license and failure to drive properly.
He was held on a $2,500 bond and a detainer from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
ICE to allow some undocumented immigrants to stay
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
Posted on Saturday, 07.02.11
Karen Sánchez, a Honduran undocumented immigrant, lives under the constant fear of deportation — especially after immigration authorities recently attached an electronic bracelet to her ankle. Her Peruvian husband, Adolfo Tueros, is now in deportation proceedings at the immigration court in downtown Miami and could be ordered deported.
Until recently, the couple had few alternatives to fix their immigration problems despite having three U.S. citizen children, including one with a serious heart condition. But a recent shift in enforcement policies by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has given the couple hope.
A memo issued June 17 by John Morton, the ICE director, laid down new guidelines that could enable immigrants like Sánchez and Tueros to remain in the country.
The Morton memo, for the first time, gives ICE trial attorneys – the “prosecutors” who try cases in immigration court – discretionary power to dismiss charges against foreign nationals facing deportation such as Sánchez and Tueros. The document, some immigration experts say, amounts to a more lenient attitude by ICE toward certain undocumented immigrants.
Nicolás Olano, the couple’s Miami immigration attorney, said he plans to use the Morton memo to help Sánchez and Tueros remain in the United States.
“It would be a disaster for our family if we are deported, me to Honduras and my husband to Peru,” Sánchez said in a telephone interview this past week “The family would be destroyed and I don’t know what would happen to our three children.”
The memo focuses more sharply than before on what constitutes the agency’s enforcement priorities: detention and deportation of dangerous foreign criminals and foreigners deemed threats to national security.
It suggests that undocumented immigrants with no criminal record or who are caring for a sick child, who have been victims of domestic violence or crime, or who arrived in the country as children would not be a priority and thus could be offered a way to stay.
Morton said at a recent press briefing that ICE was going to rewrite the so-called detainers the agency issues to undocumented immigrants arrested by local police so they are not released on bail before the agency picks them up. Morton said the rewritten detainer would be issued when those arrested are convicted, not when they are charged.
The change would have benefited undocumented immigrants like Jorge Ortiz, an 18-year-old Salvadoran recently arrested in Miami and charged with driving without a license. Then Ortiz was detained by immigration agents and locked up at Krome.
Ortiz’s mother, Deysi, said she paid a bail bonds firm $600 to free her son from police custody, but Jorge was not released because of an immigration detainer. Deysi said the bail bonds firm refused to return the $600.
Jorge was released from Krome last week, a little more than a week after the Morton memo was issued.
Tens of thousands of undocumented foreign nationals, including young students in high school or college, could qualify for more lenient treatment under the Morton memo.
Immigrant rights activists are split over whether the memo is a significant shift or contains only cosmetic changes. But immigration law experts deemed the memo significant.
“It is a change,” said Eleanor Pelta, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). “But the proof will be in the pudding. Let’s see how they implement it. Nonetheless, this represents a strong effort to empower the field to make good choices.”
Ira Kurzban a Miami immigration attorney considered a national authority on immigration law, said clauses in the memo could give ICE trial attorneys more freedom to make decisions on cases.
“It’s a positive development that will have significant consequences in many immigration cases,” said Kurzban. “It certainly has the potential to assist persons who might otherwise face certain deportation.”
The ICE agents union, however, denounced the Morton memo as a “backdoor amnesty” for undocumented immigrants in a June 23 statement issued by Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, which represents about 7,000 ICE agents.
“Any American concerned about immigration needs to brace themselves for what’s coming,” Crane said in the statement. “This is just one of many new ICE policies in queue aimed at stopping the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws in the United States. Unable to pass its immigration agenda through legislation, the administration is now implementing it through agency policy.”
Though critics have attacked the June memo, a previous Morton memo in March detailed the reasons for the change.
“ICE,” Morton wrote in the March 2 memo, “only has resources to remove approximately 400,000 aliens per year, less than 4 percent of the estimated illegal population in the United States.”
As a result, Morton added, ICE must be selective and is focusing its efforts on foreign nationals who pose a risk to national security, public safety and border security.
Sanchez and Tueros fit the profile of immigrants who could qualify for more lenient treatment.
Guidelines outlined in the Morton memo that could benefit the couple include the fact that they are the parents of U.S. citizen children and that one of them, four-year-old Enrique Tueros, suffers from congenital heart disease.
Specific factors listed in the memo, which officials can weigh now to dismiss or modify cases include whether the immigrant has a “U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent” and whether he or she “is the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability, minor, or seriously ill relatives.”
Olano, the couple’s attorney, said he will try to convince ICE officials to agree to reopen Sanchez’s case so that the original charges can be dismissed. As for her husband, Olano said he would seek cancellation of removal.
“This memo actually gives an opportunity to people like Karen and the family to remain together,” Olano said.
11 arrested in border crossing by boat; 5 others sought
By SONYA QUICK
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: July 2, 2011
Updated: July 3, 2011 9:25 a.m.
CRYSTAL COVE – Sixteen people tried to illegally cross into the United States from Mexico by boat Saturday, and five people are still at large.
This attempt is one of five migrant and drug cases seen in the past 72 hours when people crossed from Mexico to Southern California, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Sean Arumae.
The border crossing involved a "panga" – a 20- to 25-foot powerboat. The 16 people landed at Moro Beach at 5 a.m. with U.S. Border Patrol pursuing them and the Coast Guard pursuing the boat, Arumae said.
Border Patrol was able to apprehend 11 people, who will be interviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported to Mexico.
Arumae said Border Patrol will continue to check known safeguard areas in Orange County for the other five people. The Coast Guard was unable to find the boat.
"They were able to escape under the cover of heavy fog and darkness," Arumae said.
Immigrants not targets, officers say
By MERRITT MELANCON
Published Sunday, July 03, 2011
When a federal judge last week enjoined Georgia authorities from using a new immigration law to check the citizenship status of suspects, most local law enforcement agencies shrugged.
The state law never was going to really change the way local officers did their jobs, many sheriffs said -- not when they barely have money to patrol the streets and catch burglars.
"We're going from call to call," said Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith. "I don't expect the Barrow County Sheriff's Office to stop someone or go into an area where we think there might be illegal immigrants. ... We're not going to go out and look for anybody."
Every jail in Georgia already is required to check immigration status of a suspect when he's booked on serious charges.
The new law -- House Bill 87 -- would have allowed police officers on the street to hold someone suspected of a crime long enough to check his immigration status even if they don't yet have probable cause to arrest him for a crime. Opponents of this part of the bill worried that local deputies and officers could feign criminal suspicion to justify detaining individuals or families because of their race or the language they were speaking.
Even if the law had not been put on hold last week by a federal judge, local officers would have been hard-pressed to use the law correctly much less harass people with it, said Terry Norris, president of the Georgia Sheriff's Association. No one has the jail space, manpower or the money to let that happen, he said.
"I think that we're going to do what we've always done," Norris said. "I think there are a lot of people who believe that the sheriff's office and other law enforcement groups are actually going out there rounding people up, determining they're not here legally, calling the feds and then transporting them to some facility that the feds operate. The reality is, that's not going to happen."
Since January, Barrow County has been partnering with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people who ICE asks them to pick up. Deputies will forward tips to ICE if they find out that someone may be an undocumented immigrant, but deputies don't pick up people just so they can check their citizenship, Smith said.
Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry's office has the same partnership with ICE, but deputies have contacted the feds only a handful of times in the past year -- and the state law likely wouldn't affect the department.
"As far we could see there's nothing in the law that would change anything operationally for us," Berry said.
But the law already has changed the relationship between immigrant communities and their local deputies and officers in some places.
Last week, a woman contacted Athens-Clarke police to report that she had been raped a week before. She told detectives that she waited to report the rape because she was worried officers would detain her and her family, police Chief Jack Lumpkin said.
"The victim was hesitant and reported late because she was afraid we were going to question her and her family members over their immigration status," Lumpkin said. "The anxiety level is high. ... We do not want to create a situation where individuals are fearful of reporting crimes to the police, creating voids in communication.
"But under Georgia law, which we were are sworn to enforce, we will not create the atmosphere of an immigration sanctuary."
Though a federal judge Monday temporarily blocked a part of the law that authorizes police to check the immigration status of suspects, the rest of the law took effect Friday.
Among those provisions are sections that make it a felony to use false information or documentation when applying for a job and create an immigration review board to investigate complaints about government officials not complying with state laws related to illegal immigration.
Starting Jan. 1, businesses with 500 or more employees must use a federal database to check the immigration status of new hires. That requirement will be phased in by July 2013 for all businesses with more than 10 employees. Also starting Jan. 1, applicants for public benefits must provide at least one state or federally issued "secure and verifiable" document.
Ordered to be deported, but confined at MSOP
Of the dozens of men who believe they should be released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake, perhaps Hayden Michael Richards has the strongest case.
By: Brandon Stahl, Duluth News Tribune
Published July 03, 2011, 12:00 AM
Of the dozens of men who believe they should be released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake, perhaps Hayden Michael Richards has the strongest case.
He shouldn’t even be in the country.
Richards, 37, is a citizen of Trinidad and has had an order to be deported back there by the U.S. Department of Immigration and Homeland Security since 1999, according to court records.
Richards served 10 years in prison for beating and raping two women and attempting to rape two more in the mid-1990s in the St. Paul area.
Before his release in 2006, Ramsey County petitioned to have him committed for treatment at MSOP, which spends an average of $120,000 a year on each offender, about 3½ times the cost of prison.
And while in Moose Lake, Richards fathered a child with a security counselor at the facility.
That woman, Lindsay Wood, who now lives in the Twin Cities area, told the News Tribune last week she had a consensual sexual relationship with Richards for eight to nine months inside the Moose Lake center.
“I can’t deny that I love him,” she said. “He’s a good person. I feel he’s a good person. I found the good in him. And he’s a great father.”
Though she’s no longer allowed inside the facility, Wood said she speaks to him almost daily on the phone. Richards also speaks daily to their daughter, now 2, Wood said. Their daughter also has visited him three times at Moose Lake.
Wood, who grew up in Moose Lake, was 22 when she started working at MSOP. She said she advanced to security counselor lead worker, where part of her role was to work one-on-one with some of the clients and have “healthy therapeutic relationships with them,” including talking with them about their goals and playing games with them.
“It was to provide some sort of normalcy,” Wood said. “It started out as talking, just being on the unit and interacting.
“And one thing led to another,” she said, “and a relationship began.”
She said the two were able to have sex because they found places away from the facility’s cameras and “other staff weren’t paying attention.”
The two were discovered after Wood said she confided to another employee about the relationship. That employee went to administrators, Wood said.
Wood was fired in February 2009; Richards was sent back to prison for violating conditions of his parole.
He was returned to MSOP. He declined an interview request last week with the News Tribune.
Wood, 26, who says she now works as an administrative assistant and lives in the Twin Cities area, said Richards wants to be deported, something she supports. If that happened, she said she believes he could have a better relationship with their daughter in Trinidad. Wood said she probably wouldn’t move there, but would allow her daughter to visit him there.
“At least she could go to see him once or twice a year and have a relationship with him, without it being in a room (at MSOP),” she said.
Wood said she would trust Richards with their daughter.
“He’s not a pedophile, for one. …. Obviously, I wouldn’t allow my daughter to go see him if I thought he was having sexually deviant fantasies,” she said. “He cares. He has a heart. He is thoughtful, gives great advice. I’d bet you a million dollars that he’s the smartest guy inside MSOP.”
That’s a far cry from testimony Richards’ victims gave when he was sentenced for rape.
According to records, Richards’ victims were strangers, picked as they were walking alone early in the morning or late at night. In the two cases where he succeeded with the rape, he punched the women and forced them to the ground before raping them. In the two cases of attempted rape, passersby stopped him and he fled.
According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, one of his victims testified against him in 1997, saying she said she no longer felt safe and sometimes started crying when she thought about the attack.
“I wish he could somehow experience what we did,” she said.
His crimes were so severe that it was clear he was a sexually dangerous person who needed to be committed to MSOP, said Susan Gaertner, the former Ramsey County attorney who petitioned for his commitment.
While her office was aware of the deportation order, Gaertner said it was irrelevant.
“One, the feds in our experience do not always follow through when they can deport someone,” she said. “Two, we did not want to inflict Hayden Michael Richards on the women of Trinidad, nor did we want him sneaking back into the country to be a threat to Minnesotans.”
After he was committed, Richards appealed, arguing that the purpose of MSOP is to treat sex offenders and release them back into the community. But because his release would be back to Trinidad, he argued that he wasn’t a proper candidate for treatment.
The appeals court denied Richards’ request, finding that because he was clearly a sexually dangerous person and psychopath, he met the statutory criteria for commitment.
They also noted that U.S. immigration can deport him back to Trinidad at any time.
But that doesn’t appear likely to happen. Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs, said for Richards to be deported, he’d have to be released from state custody first.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cannot effect deportation of criminal aliens who are currently in state custody until the state releases them from custody,” he said in a statement.
Richards is in the custody of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which runs MSOP.
Since it opened in the mid-1990s, no offender has ever been permanently released from the program.