Five personal stories of life in mixed-status families
October 28, 2011 | 11:18 AM | By Leslie Berestein Rojas
What is it like to live in a family in which you’re a U.S. citizen, but your spouse, one of your parents, a sibling, an uncle or aunt, even one of your children is undocumented?
During the past week, Multi-American has presented a series of first-person stories from people in families like these. Families of mixed immigration status are surprisingly common. In 2009, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated there were 8.8 million people living in mixed-status families in the United States.
This makes for a conservative estimate, as Pew’s definition was limited to families with unauthorized immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. Even more common are mixed-status extended families, one example being the Kenyan-born family of President Obama, whose undocumented half-uncle was arrested in August, and whose aunt was up for deportation until being granted asylum.
Why are mixed-status families so prevalent in the U.S? The demand for family reunification through legal channels is much larger than the number of available immigrant visas, for one thing. And for those who are in the U.S. illegally, it is much more difficult to adjust one’s immigration status than commonly thought, even through marriage. Those who entered with visas and overstayed stand a better chance, but tighter laws over the years have made it impossible for many people who entered without visas to ever adjust their status.
So what is life like for these families? As those who contributed to the series have explained, things as simple as taking a trip together are fraught with anxiety, or just not done. Those here legally don’t add their spouses to insurance plans or add their names to loan documents. “It’s as if she doesn’t exist,” one person wrote. Here are some highlights from the series.
A woman in Arizona who is a U.S. citizen writes about life with her undocumented husband, who has been unable to adjust his status and is now being deported:
People who don’t have undocumented family members don’t believe me when I tell them he can’t get papers. They don’t believe me when I tell them my brother-in-law can not enter this country legally to pick crops. They always tell me I’m mistaken. Or they’re callous and don’t understand how easy it was for their ancestors to enter, and how difficult it is now.
A man who works with elementary school students in Portland, Oregon public schools writes about how media images and public attitudes affect children in mixed-status households:
Many of my students have a lot of sad issues with their cultural identity, stemming from the kind of hateful things they hear all the time about them and their families. The undocumented population in Portland is pretty big, so there’s not as much fear or secrecy as there are kids growing up having to listen to their neighbors and the media speak about their parents as if they were sub-human. That causes lasting damage to kids, and it sucks.
A woman who was born to Mexican immigrants in Kansas City, Missouri writes about life with her domestic partner, who has tried to adjust her status but remains undocumented:
It hurts to keep so many secrets. I can’t put her on an application for a loan and I have to say I’m the only person in the household. I can’t put her on my health or auto insurance and again – it’s as if she doesn’t exist.
We share a car because I don’t feel comfortable knowing she is driving at night (she works at two restaurants). She works weekends, so I know that there is plenty of police patrol on Friday and Saturday nights. I had to learn to drive stick shift (but that’s a positive)!
I have a professional career and I hate not being able to take her to company events where they may require valid drivers license/identification/etc. I hate that I can go to college and she (who is miles ahead of me), can’t. I hate that she is taken advantage of at work and she can’t just quit or file grievances like I could.
A legal resident in Orange County, California, whose family arrived in the U.S. on temporary visas when he was 13 and overstayed, writes about the fear he feels over what could become of his two undocumented siblings who now have families of their own:
Fear. Fear that my siblings who are still undocumented will be picked up by ICE agents and deported. Fear that they’ll be deported and their children be picked up by Child Protective Services. Fear that they lose their employment due to their legal status.
A young Los Angeles woman who is a U.S. citizen also wrote about her fear and frustration. Despite their attempts to legalize after 21 years here, both her parents are undocumented:
Fear is something we live with. It’s our enemy because it’s always there reminding us of who we are but it’s also our friend since it has been with us for so long.
Fear is involved in everything we do and everywhere we go. Driving or paying with a credit card (no license or valid ID). Deportation is always a possibility as well. Our future as a family is uncertain.
Mixed citizenship status within a family causes frustration, uncertainty, secrecy, lies. It’s a burden at times and something that is thought about every single day.
The personal stories were submitted via KPCC’s Public Insight Network, which solicits input from the public on specific topics.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Five personal stories of life in mixed-status families
Thursday, October 27, 2011
From cops to courts, confusion reigns over Alabama immigration law
12:08 AM, Oct. 27, 2011
Written by Jay Reeves
BIRMINGHAM -- Alabama's tough new law on illegal immigration was complicated even before the courts got involved. Now that federal judges have blocked parts of the act while letting others take effect, officials say uncertainty reigns even while suspects are being arrested and jailed.
Court cases can vary from one place to the other, depending on how local police apply the law to arrest suspects. Once those suspects get to court, the handling of their cases can vary from judge to judge in the state's more than 450 trial courts at the municipal and county level.
"There's a whole lot of confusion about the law and what we should do about it," said Judge Scott Vowell, a circuit judge in Birmingham's Jefferson County and president of the Alabama Circuit Judges Association.
He said he has a list of troubling reports: In some areas, police are setting up roadblocks near mobile home communities where Hispanic people live. One municipal judge opened court by saying that anyone without a driver's license would be arrested under the law. Another judge told spectators that the need for a translator could be considered evidence against someone.
Other cases of mixed signals are easy to find.
In the north Alabama city of Decatur, four people were arrested on charges of failing to have proper documents and pleaded guilty within hours under a part of the law a federal court has since struck down. The same day in Jemison, a judge threw out a similar charge against a man because the defendant already was free on bond from a federal immigration court.
Court administrators' interpretation of a key part of the law was challenged by a judge in one instance, and a lawyer tried and failed to use the month-old law to throw out a contract reached in May 2010 between a car seller and two purchasers who were living in the country illegally.
Alabama's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Luther Strange, said many people who are uncertain about the law haven't even read it.
While some said the federal court decisions added to the confusion, Strange said they may have instead helped by placing some sections on hold.
"I think it will give people a chance to take a breath and read the provisions," said Strange, whose office is defending the act in court.
State officials are trying to clear up some of the questions through training that began only after the law took effect. The Administrative Office of Courts has sent memos and emails to judges explaining the law, and the Alabama Department of Homeland Security provided an overview for police at a meeting organized by Strange's office.
On Friday, the Alabama District Attorneys Association will hold a meeting for prosecutors in hopes of developing a blueprint for statewide training for law enforcement. Executive director Randy Hillman said many local agencies still aren't enforcing the law because of uncertainty over exactly what it says.
"Right now people don't know how to apply it," Hillman said. "We're feeling our way. It's not that it's not doable, it's just that it's difficult."
Susan Fuqua, the head of a state organization for municipal court officials, said training sessions and legal advice from Montgomery help, but courts constantly disagree over how to enforce laws. Court rulings yet to come could complicate the situation even further, she added.
"There are over 170 municipal courts in Alabama. There are judges there, and they might be on different pages on how to handle it. Are they all in agreement? I can't answer that," said Fuqua, president of the Alabama Municipal Court Clerks and Magistrates Association.
Passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Robert Bentley, the 72-page, 34-section law is considered the nation's toughest crackdown on illegal immigration by both supporters and opponents. It covers a wide range of everyday life, from making it illegal to give an illegal immigrant a ride and requiring schools to check students' citizenship status to barring contracts with illegal immigrants and making them carry documents.
The law originally was set to take effect Sept. 1, but U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn blocked implementation while considering challenges from the Justice Department, immigrant rights groups, religious leaders and others. She finally let some sections take effect Sept. 29 but blocked others, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then blocked more of it this month.
As lawyers sorted through the court opinions, some police agencies delayed enforcement. Fuqua said police haven't filed any cases in the municipal court she oversees in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, but other cities already are prosecuting people.
The four illegal immigrants arrested in Decatur during a pair of traffic stops pleaded guilty Oct. 10 within hours of their detention under a section of the law that created a misdemeanor offense for anyone who was in the country illegally and failed to carry an alien registration document.
Each was ordered to pay $296 in fines and fees and transferred to the custody of federal immigration officials, even though the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of that section of the law four days later.
Municipal court officials said none of the four appealed their convictions, but a defense attorney who represented them did not return messages seeking comment.
Meanwhile, a judge in the central town of Jemison was throwing out the case against a man who was arrested on a similar charge of failing to have documents. His lawyer, Freddy Rubio, argued that the law was unclear and his client was legally in the United States because he was free on bond while challenging a deportation order from a federal immigration judge.
Rubio, an American Civil Liberties Union board member who is part of the coalition challenging the new law, said he has spent years representing immigrant clients yet still isn't sure exactly which parts of the law are now in effect and exactly what they mean.
"It's a mess. It was so big, no one is sure what it is now," he said.
Vowell, the head of the judges' association, agrees.
"Judges need to make an effort to apply the law the same around the state, and that's certainly difficult because of the ambiguity of the law and the opinions that have been issued by the federal courts that have addressed the law," he said. "Some of it will just have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis."
Illegal aliens found riding in rescue vehicle
Alamogordo Daily News
By Duane Barbati, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/26/2011 10:09:33 PM MDT
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are investigating four men two of whom may be illegal immigrants who came through the Border Patrol checkpoint during the weekend in an emergency vehicle.
Otero County Sheriff Benny House said an Otero County Volunteer Fire Department emergency rescue vehicle, assigned to the Chaparral area, entered the U.S. Highway 54 South Border Patrol checkpoint around 7:30 a.m. Saturday en route to Alamogordo.
He said Border Patrol agents conducted standard questioning of the driver. Three occupants of the rescue vehicle were all dressed in volunteer fire department attire and claimed to be U.S. citizens.
House said three of the occupants provided agents with New Mexico driver's licenses for identification.
The men all claimed to be going to Alamogordo to attend a training session, he said.
House said the individuals were identified as Jose Louis Avalos, 29; Omar Oswaldo Lopez, 26; Jaime Rafael Enriquez-Quinones, 21; and Jesus Manuel Fuentes-Ortega, 37.
Avalos and Lopez indicated they are residents of Chaparral and affiliated with the Far South Volunteer Fire Department, he said.
House said Enriquez-Quinones listed his address as Chaparral and Fuentes-Ortega listed his address as Las Cruces.
He said agents discovered through further investigation that Enriquez-Quinones and Fuentes-Ortega were presently in the U.S. illegally.
ICE authorities were notified and responded to the checkpoint and detained the four men, House said.
He said ICE is continuing their investigation into the incident. The rescue vehicle was transported to the Otero County Sheriff's Department and returned to service in the Chaparral area.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Clanton police amend policy to reflect new immigration law
By Justin Averette
Published 7:20pm Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The Clanton City Council voted Monday to amend the police department’s policy manual to reflect the state’s new immigration law.
Police Chief Brian Stilwell said a provision of the law requires police departments to enforce the law — if cities refuse, their mayors and police chiefs could face various penalties.
Under the new policy, anyone who is pulled over for a traffic stop or lawfully detained must show one of six forms of identification. Some forms of acceptable ID include a valid Alabama driver’s license, state non-driver ID card, some federal IDs and foreign passports with unexpired U.S. visas.
“Ninety percent of the time, it will stop at the driver’s license,” said Sgt. Neil Fetner.
People who forget to carry their license can usually have their citizenship status verified by providing officers with information like their name, date of birth and social security number.
But Fetner cautions people to not take that chance.
“Have your ID, and be prepared to show your ID,” Fetner said.
People who fail to provide any of the six forms of acceptable ID and can’t be found in any database will be cited and arrested for driving without a license.
Anyone detained must appear before a magistrate within 24 hours to determine citizenship status.
If someone is in the country legally or if the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency fails to provide citizenship status information within 24 hours, the person detained must be immediately released, pending bond on any local charges.
People found to be in the country illegally will be transferred into ICE custody once legal charges are adjudicated.
So far, only one person has gone through the process and was picked up by ICE after seven days in Clanton’s custody.
In that case, a driver was pulled over for having an expired tag. He couldn’t produce any acceptable form of ID. It was also later determined that he gave a bogus name to the arresting officer.
Fetner said the amendment to the department’s policy would be rescinded if federal courts eventually overturn the law, which is being appealed by the U.S. Justice Department and other groups.
He said it’s also likely the state Legislature will close some loopholes and make other changes when it reconvenes early next year, which could also affect the department’s policy.
In the meantime, he said CPD had no choice but to enforce the law as it was written.
“We want to make sure we cover our bases and the city’s liability by enforcing the law,” Fetner said.
Fetner also wanted to stress that the law prohibits law enforcement from “racial profiling,” and that officers will only be checking IDs of people lawfully detained or arrested. The law also provides immunity from the immigration law for victims and witnesses of crimes.
Dream Act Supporters Rally Around Detained South Floridian
Protesters are fighting for the release of Shamir Ali while hoping the Dream Act will be signed into law to provide a path to citizenship for students and military service members
By Steve Litz | Tuesday, Oct 25, 2011 | Updated 10:23 PM EDT
The American dream of education has become a nightmare for some who were too young to know they were brought into the country illegaly.
The proposed 'Dream Act' would create a pathway to citizenship for college students and members of the military, but so far, it hasn't passed -- meaning a wave of deportations continues.
One of those deportations may be Shamir Ali, who is on the brink of being returned to India after living in the U.S. 18 years. His mother brought him into the country when he was seven; now 25, the government is ready to deport him to Bangladesh.
Protesters outside the Broward Transitional Center Tuesday are working to make sure that doesn't happen.
"It's just not fair that during an economic boom people came and were taken advantage of, paid low wages, etc., and now they're being told to leave after they built a life in the United States," said Felipe Matos, a protest organizer and friend of Ali's.
Nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants have been deported this fiscal year, the largest number in U.S. history. The government says 55 percent were convicted criminals.
Protesters, however, say the enforcement of current immigration laws is not working, and claim people are being wrongfully detained.
"This is breaking up families," said Kim Matum, who married her British husband inside the transitional facility in July. Immigration officials won't let him out.
"I'm a three hour drive away," Matum said. "I come because I got to support him, got to do what I can because I feel this is totally wrong that he's here [despite being] married to an American...His daughter is [in the] U.S. Navy."
Some 3,000 people have signed a petition in support of Ali, but in a statement Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say there is no demonstrable evidence that his removal would visit hardship on his family.
Matos and the protesters disagree.
"Shamir is one of many," he said. "That's why we're here, because we're not gonna stop until we can finally get the end of deportation of all Dream Act students."
Ali, meanwhile, will stay in detention until further notice.
Morresi critical of procedures
BY MIA LIGHT AND AMANDA CHRISTMAN (STAFF WRITERS
)Published: October 26, 2011
A routine traffic stop involving an admitted illegal immigrant has the police chief of a small Carbon County community once again criticizing Immigration and Customs Enforcement - and now the Hazleton Area School District, too.
Beaver Meadows police Chief Mike Morresi said he conducted the traffic stop on Arturo Garcia-Garcia, 34, on Saturday at 2:40 p.m. for traveling at 46 mph in a 35-mph zone on Broad Street. It was during that traffic stop that Garcia-Garcia handed him a fictitious Pennsylvania identification card that listed his address as 10 E. Broad St., Hazleton, according to an investigation report furnished to the Standard-Speaker.
The report states that Garcia-Garcia told Morresi he was in the country illegally for the past 15 years and lived with his girlfriend, with whom he has two children, ages 9 and 11, the report states. Garcia-Garcia said he used the same card to enroll his children in the Hazleton Area School District three years prior, Morresi said.
Garcia-Garcia was taken into custody and the false ID was confiscated. The vehicle and children were released to acquaintances of Garcia-Garcia and he was taken to the Pennsylvania State Police Hazleton barracks for a records check, the report states. Morresi said that check showed he had a prior arrest and driving under the influence conviction in Florida under a fictitious name.
Morresi said during an interview Tuesday that when he checked Garcia-Garcia's record again, it showed the man was cited on four separate occasions by different police departments for driving without a license, the first one in 1993 and the last in 2007. Each time, Morresi said, Garcia-Garcia was issued a citation and released.
Additionally, Morresi wrote another police agency charged Garcia-Garcia with a vehicle code violation recently. That violation caused him to be brought before an immigration judge, who granted him a voluntary deportation for Nov. 5, Morresi wrote.
Morresi said he called ICE with the information, noting he met the requirements for providing him with a detainer for Garcia-Garcia. Immigration told Morresi to release him, refusing to take him into their custody or provide police with a detainer, according to Morresi's report. ICE officials continued, saying the only way they were going to take Garcia-Garcia into custody was if police filed charges. Morresi said he told ICE he would be filing charges, which "forced" ICE to provide a detainer.
Garcia-Garcia was arraigned on charges of false identification to law enforcement, driving without a proper license and speeding before District Judge Joseph Homanko, who set bail at $5,000 straight and set a preliminary hearing for today at 11 a.m.; however, ICE has 48 hours to obtain custody of him from prison, Morresi said.
A Carbon County prison spokesperson said Tuesday that Garcia-Garcia is still listed as an inmate at the facility and cannot be picked up by ICE until he answers to the charges placed against him by Beaver Meadows police.
At the end of the incident investigation report, Morresi wrote he was forwarding the report to explain the "ongoing dilemma" law enforcement has with ICE.
"On previous occasions I was informed by ICE that agents would immediately pick up any illegal immigrant that had a criminal history, was in the country illegally for re-entry or had gang affiliations. As previously stated, Garcia-Garcia did have a criminal history in addition to being in the country illegally for the second time. However, when I presented these facts to ICE they told me to release him or charge him."
A media spokesperson for ICE was made aware of the allegations and as of Tuesday afternoon was looking into the issue. A media spokesperson from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation also was investigating.
Morresi was also critical of the Hazleton Area School District, noting Garcia-Garcia, who also told police he now lives on Allen Street in West Hazleton, said he used the false ID to enroll his children at the Hazleton Area School District and they did not have a problem accepting it. Morresi said the Hazleton Area School District website clearly states three proofs of residency are needed to enroll students.
"In addition to the government problem we have with deporting illegal immigrants, I hope you are in agreement with me that it is bewildering that our locals schools are allowing children of persons with no legal United States proof of residency to attend the schools," he wrote.
After reviewing Morresi's complaint Tuesday, acting District Superintendent Francis X. Antonelli said Garcia-Garcia claimed to have enrolled his children in Hazleton Area schools three years ago, which was more than a year before the district adopted its current student enrollment policy that includes strict proof-of-residency requirements.
"Our registration policy wasn't adopted until the spring of 2010, so these kids were registered before the policy went into effect," Antonelli said.
Even though Garcia-Garcia's immigration status has been brought to his attention, Antonelli said the district is prohibited from taking any immigration-related action.
"We in this state do not have the right to preclude registration or enrollment on immigration status. And I can tell you unequivocally, if we tried, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) would challenge the district and probably prevail," Antonelli said.
Protecting illegal immigrants to catch criminals
Article by: PAUL McENROE, Star Tribune
Updated: October 26, 2011 - 7:33 AM
One Minnesota county has done an about-face on deportation, bucking federal law to stop violence.
AUSTIN, MINN. - It was after 1 a.m. when the policeman arrived at Patricia Sanchez's house, and he understood in a glance why she had dialed 911. Her face was streaked with scratches and her neck bore the red imprint of a man's hand.
"You're lucky to be alive,'' he said. He arrested her husband for domestic violence with intent to strangle and told the young woman to get an order for protection as soon as the courthouse opened.
The next morning, before returning to work at her packinghouse job, Sanchez stood at a court clerk's window, filling out a piece of paper that was supposed to be strong enough to stop abuse.
While Sanchez waited at the courthouse, though, police were at her home, searching for evidence that her husband was an illegal immigrant. Rummaging through drawers and bedding, an officer noticed a framed photograph on the living room wall. It depicted a woman identified as Lisa Salazar in her white work uniform and hard hat, honored as Quality Pork Processors' Employee of the Month. Except that Salazar looked exactly like Patricia Sanchez. Police also found documents suggesting Sanchez had committed identity fraud to get work and receive benefits for her children.
A week later, Sanchez sat bewildered in the Mower County jail, facing immigration charges and the threat of deportation back to Mexico. The victim had become a suspect.
The frightening June night in 2009 transformed Sanchez's life -- and now it has thrust Mower County into the vanguard of a national struggle over illegal immigration, policing and crime.
Today, after more than a year of soul-searching over law and justice, Mower County has a striking new policy: Illegal immigrants who become victims of violent crime will not be charged with document offenses, giving them immunity to aid the prosecution of more serious, violent felonies.
In Austin, a storied meatpacking town of 24,700 near the Iowa border, the issue has been pushed to the fore by an unlikely voice: Jeremy Clinefelter, the tough-minded assistant prosecutor who helped deport Sanchez's husband and then charged her with felony fraud.
"It didn't feel right morally,'' Clinefelter said. "We're prosecutors. But more that, we're here to be fair and just.''
Mower County may be unique in the Upper Midwest, according to Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster, president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. But its new approach, he said, could have wider repercussions by removing a form of blackmail used against illegal immigrants.
"The abuser says, 'You can't go to the police, or I'm going to tell them you're here illegally,' '' Beaumaster said. "It's a legitimate use of prosecutorial discretion in assuring that a defendant doesn't get to use our immigration laws as a weapon.''
Yet Mower County wouldn't put its new philosophy into practice until another act of violence played out this year, when another illegal immigrant answered his door and found himself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
Since Congress created a program called Secure Communities in 2007, local police and prosecutors have been playing an ever-larger role in enforcing federal immigration law. Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have been arrested and deported, often in a process that started with a routine traffic stop or a set of fingerprints taken at a county jail.
But one question keeps arising: How can police and prosecutors build trust in growing ethnic communities when illegal immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding fear they will face arrest and deportation if they step forward to report crime?
Secure Communities places a priority on catching dangerous illegal immigrants convicted of violent felonies, yet federal documents show that one-fourth of the immigrants deported under the act had no criminal convictions.
At least five states have dropped out of the program in the past year, amid concerns about the potential for abusive and counterproductive tactics.
In Minnesota, however, some influential lawmakers are eager to have the state participate, even though that's not mandatory until 2013.
Last May, after a late-night hearing and without debate, the Legislature adopted an amendment requiring Minnesota to take part in Secure Communities. That legislation stalled at Gov. Mark Dayton's desk, but the passionate debate is not over.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is among those who think Secure Communities is a fine idea.
"Do my deputies go out on the streets and roads looking to arrest illegal aliens?'' he said. "Absolutely not. But if someone is stopped for breaking laws and there is an identity issue involved, then they may be booked like anyone else who breaks a law, and that kind of information is available for [immigration officials] o review.''
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, who pressed the legislation last spring, says the issue has been unfairly politicized. "I agree we should have amnesty programs for victims and witnesses who report crimes,'' she said. "But if we're going to house them in our jails or in our custody, we want to find out whether they're here illegally.''
But civil liberties lawyers -- and some prominent lawmen -- disagree.
"You're going to put the community in an adversarial position with their police,'' says John Harrington, a state senator and former St. Paul police chief. "You're taking out the people who are in the best position to tell us about dangerous people in our community.''
A few days after the assault on Sanchez, Jeremy Clinefelter walked into his office, skimmed through the papers on his desk and found what seemed to be just another routine file: Patricia Sanchez, aka Lisa Salazar -- felony fraud-forgery.
Then it hit him: This was the same woman whose husband he had just charged with domestic assault.
He thought it through. Here was a woman who had found the courage to step out of the shadows, confront a criminal and call the police. He knew the investigating officers, too. They hadn't gone to her house intending to trap her. They had stumbled onto the evidence.
He couldn't remember Mower County having a similar case, and now it was his.
Clinefelter was a Hamline law grad. He hailed from Ohio and still kept a photo of a red-drenched Buckeye football stadium on his office wall. He married a woman from Austin and decided it was a good place to settle down. He had started as an assistant prosecutor in 2003, the same year that Patricia Sanchez showed up at Quality Pork to receive her hard hat and knife.
He soon found that, geographically and emotionally, Austin sat at the center of an immigration wave roiling southern Minnesota. The big meatpacking plants across the state's southern tier required an endless supply of workers willing to do grueling, dangerous jobs for modest wages. People willing to travel thousands of miles from the Texas-Mexico border for low wages satisfied it.
But there was a hidden cost to the boom. Austin had hundreds of residents with two, sometimes three, different names. They had purchased stolen IDs from brokers along the Mexican border or once they arrived in the Midwest. That meant there were also hundreds of victims of identity theft somewhere -- crime victims who suffered because of immigrants seeking work.
Inside the plants, the illegal immigrants and their supervisors had a running one-liner: "What's your name today?" a boss would ask as he walked down the line. The worker would smile and just keep cutting.
"It's no secret [that packinghouses] frequently employ illegal aliens using assumed identities," Clinefelter said. "That itself is a federal issue. But it is virtually impossible for an illegal alien to work without [also] committing multiple violations of state law, anywhere from traffic offenses -- no driver's license -- all the way to felony offenses.
"We'll prosecute violations of Minnesota law,'' Clinefelter added. "But cleaning up immigration is a federal issue."
From 2000 to 2009, the Hispanic population in Mower County more than doubled, to nearly 3,500, part of a larger immigration wave statewide. Clinefelter's stolen-identity caseload was running at 50 to 70 files per year by 2005, most of them illegal immigrants. He'd become the office expert on document crimes.
To Clinefelter, however, court files weren't the truest reflection of Austin's new demographics. When he drove through town, whether to one of his children's dance recitals or to play hardball in the town's Over 30 League, he found it more revealing to measure Austin's changing character by the colors and sounds he picked up backstage or along a dugout bench.
On a Saturday morning, he noticed that city basketball courts along the Cedar River were packed with dozens of Hispanic players. All teams in custom uniforms, with their own referees and families hooting friendly Spanish catcalls.
At a dance recital, he had watched his kindergarten son -- red hair and blue eyes -- rush up to a Hispanic family sitting shyly off to the side. "Bianca!' the boy shouted to the little girl. She was his class pal from their reading group. "Dad, she's a Red Cricket!''
Now, Clinefelter had the troubling Sanchez file in front of him. He walked next door to his boss' office.
The lawyers debate
County Attorney Kristen Nelsen listened patiently as Clinefelter outlined the case. She trusted her deputy's instincts and heard him out. Then the debate began.
"What if we'd found drugs in that house?'' she said. "Would we look the other way? A stolen car out front? Would we ignore that because she's the victim of domestic abuse?
"Where do we say, 'Hold on a minute?' '' Nelson said. "What about the people on the other side of identity fraud --the ones who've had their identities stolen?''
Clinefelter came back at her. If we start prosecuting people like Sanchez, he said, it will have a chilling effect on future cases.
The argument went back and forth.
Nelsen was one of Austin's daughters who took the long way home. She had graduated from Austin High School, then the University of Minnesota and then Hamline Law School. She had headed west to Las Vegas for a spell, prosecuting violent felonies, and then became a prosecutor in the District of Columbia.
The road trip had left a mark.
"I learned how to be a prosecutor in Vegas,'' she said. "Lots of charges and stiff penalties. Minnesota people don't go to prison as often as they would in other places. I have a tendency to be on the harsh end."
In the Sanchez case, Nelsen was not moved. Mower County charged the young woman with aggravated forgery, a felony likely to put her on a federal deportation plane.
'I'm not a bad person'
As a teenager, Patricia Sanchez had risked her life crossing the Mexican border and the treacherous Sonoran Desert to get to the United States for a better life. Now, in the summer of 2009, she found herself in a Sherburne County jail cell leased by federal immigration authorities. Her sister in California had taken the children.
"People at immigration see us as criminals,'' she recalled. "I told them: 'I came here to work. I don't use drugs, I don't drink. I am not a bad person.' ''
Meanwhile, her case had been taken up by a St. Paul attorney, former Ramsey County District Judge Alberto Miera. He argued that the police had conducted an illegal search of Sanchez's purse and wanted the fraud case dismissed, a move that infuriated County Attorney Nelsen.
Finally, the attorneys agreed to go to trial on a charge of simple forgery, still a felony. A judge found Sanchez guilty. She received a year's stay, marked down to a misdemeanor if she obeyed the law.
Then, satisfied with a finding of guilt, Clinefelter and Nelsen took a step on Sanchez's behalf -- the crucial step that could save her from deportation. They supported her application for a special visa granted to victims of domestic violence, a document known as a U-Visa. It worked.
By that fall, Sanchez was released from federal custody, reunited with her children, and back at work on the cutting line at Quality Pork.
But the conclusion of her case didn't settle the larger question for Mower County. By late 2010, police Capt. Bill McKichan was back in Clinefelter's office, not to debate the merits of Ohio State football, but to describe the flak that police were catching from Hispanic community groups.
He said Hispanics, wary from the Sanchez case, weren't stepping forward to help solve major crimes they knew about. He wanted a clear policy on immigration crimes from Nelsen's office.
All across southern Minnesota, police and prosecutors were coming to grips with the same dilemma. Just 130 miles west on I-90, the city of Worthington was the scene of a 2006 immigration raid in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents with Kevlar vests and automatic weapons swept through the Swift meatpacking plant, arresting 230 workers and carrying them off in chartered buses. Distrust permeated the city. To this day, authorities in Worthington say, immigrants often refuse to help police for fear of being deported.
Clinefelter agreed with McKichan. "Finally, I just walked in and said to Kristen that I thought this was bull, and I outlined why,'' he said.
This time, Nelsen agreed. She struck a verbal agreement with police that, going forward, illegal immigrants who were crime victims would not be arrested and charged for their document violations.
"The re-victimization issue came to the surface through this case,'' Nelson said. "We're having our evolution. You have to figure out what's your greater purpose.''
Officials from ICE wouldn't comment on Mower County's policy. But a spokesman for the Bloomington office said: "ICE has a significant history and reputation for working closely with all law enforcement agencies -- local, state, federal and international -- to accomplish the common goal of ensuring public safety. While local governments decide how to approach law-making in their communities, ICE will continue to enforce a wide range of federal immigration laws.''
Immunity for a witness
Months went by and then, in March 2011, a bloody altercation put the county's new policy to the test.
A man had been shot in an Austin apartment and, bleeding profusely, was being rushed by helicopter to Rochester for emergency care. Detective Sgt. Todd Clennon had been assigned to the case and now, in the man's apartment, was following the blood trail across the floor.
Clennon's eyes scanned the room slowly. A spent shotgun case. Flesh on the wall. Religious figurines.
Deeply Catholic, Clennon thought. Probably Hispanic.
"Then it occurred to me that this apartment was really being taken care of,'' Clennon recounted later. "My first thought was this doesn't appear to be a place where you have a guy selling dope."
The shooting was Clennon's first big case as a detective. It would also be the case that tested Mower County's new approach to immigration enforcement.
Alejandro Jimenez-Gonzalez had been shot in the thigh by an assailant who had come to the door holding a shotgun, apparently mistaking it for the home of a drug dealer. Jimenez-Gonzalez had managed to get his two kids outside, and then at the last second, had pushed the gun barrel away from his stomach as the gunman fired.
In the bedroom, Clennon and his partner found a dresser littered with IDs.
"It took me 10 seconds to realize he had two different names,'' Clennon recalled.
The next day Clennon briefed Police Chief Brian Krueger at dawn. He said the victim had been using false documents, probably to get work, but said that issue was "about 800th'' on their list of concerns. The chief agreed. Within days, a suspect was arrested in Rochester and Clennon felt they had a solid case of attempted murder.
A few days later, Clennon took a call from Kristen Nelsen. She had heard that Jimenez-Gonzalez and his family planned to skip town to avoid getting busted for document fraud.
"I'm thinking we need to scramble the jets,'' Nelson told the detective. "Otherwise, this [case] will fall apart."
Nelsen told Clennon she was prepared to give Jimenez-Gonzalez and his wife a letter of immunity from any immigration charges so that he would stay in Austin to testify in the murder case. Clinefelter would draft it.
"My office will not charge you for using false documents to reside in this community,'' the letter read. "This immunity ... has been granted to you because you are the victim of a violent crime.''
It didn't take Clennon long to find Jimenez-Gonzalez's wife.
"We pull up, you could see the [suspicion] in her face,'' Clennon said. Was it a ploy? A trick?
His partner read Nelsen's immunity letter to her in Spanish. "You could see this glow come over her face,'' Clennon said. "They could live in the U.S. without a knock on their door."
Meanwhile, Clinefelter wanted the family under formal federal immigration protection. He contacted Dan Donnelly, an experienced immigration attorney in Austin, who took the case pro bono.
Jimenez-Gonzalez has agreed to stay. The man accused of shooting him is expected to face trial before the end of the year, and Jimenez-Gonzalez will be there to testify.
The decision to trust the judicial system has come with a cost. Jimenez-Gonzalez lost his job at Quality Pork for using false documents - employers now face stiff federal penalties for employing undocumented workers.
"But I bet Alejandro would say it was worth it,'' Clennon said. "Shoot me in the leg in order to get that visa? [It got] that fear out, so they never have to be looking over their back.''
As for Patricia Sanchez, she works the day shift at Quality Pork. The kids are doing well in school and they are all living legally in the United States.
She is dating a man who, she says, treats her very well. He said he is an illegal immigrant who found a job in Austin.
Local business raided Friday
By Staff reports
Posted Oct 26, 2011 @ 11:00 AM
Heber Springs, Ark - On October 21, about 11 a.m., a total of 29 illegals were retained after all four El Tres Amigos restaurants were raided by the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, along with local, state, Federal, and IRS agents, according to official sources.
The El Tres Amigos owner was also detained for identity theft.
The raids took place in Heber Springs, Rose Bud, Mountain View, and Batesville.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Perkasie dad faces deportation
Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 5:55 am
By Theresa Hegel Staff Writer
Three-year-old Noah Orellana-Garcia hasn’t seen his father for three months, not since an early July morning tore his family apart.
Miguel Orellana-Garcia, 24, of Perkasie, was getting ready to leave for his job at the Richlandtown feed mill where he’s worked for the past four years.
He stepped out the front door and was apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who had been waiting nearby, said Jessica Winkler, 25, Orellana-Garcia’s fiancee.
“They threw Miguel on the floor right in front of Noah,” said Winkler, a U.S. citizen. “We were in shock. We didn’t know what was going on.”
As far as the couple knew, Orellana-Garcia was in the country legally, under temporary protected status, having come to the United States with his family from hurricane-ravaged, war-torn El Salvador when he was 9.
Since that day in July, Orellana-Garcia has been sitting in York County Prison, awaiting a deportation hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Orellana-Garcia’s abrupt change in status from legal to illegal stems from a handful of misdemeanor arrests and a court letter that never reached its intended destination.
Orellana-Garcia received a DUI charge for underage drinking in 2006 and was twice arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana, in 2007 and 2009. He served no jail time, receiving instead 30 days’ probation for each of the drug charges.
But because of those infractions, the government revoked Orellana-Garcia’s temporary protected status, said Dave Bennion, Orellana-Garcia’s lawyer. Any two misdemeanors, even for something as minor as shoplifting, could trigger the change in status, he added.
“He had these run-ins, it’s not uncommon for people of that age,” Bennion said of his client. “It was certainly a mistake, but he’s been trying to get things on track. ... I think that the consequences of those actions are disproportionate. It wouldn’t stand in the criminal system, but in the immigration system, it’s pretty much anything goes.”
Orellana-Garcia’s status was revoked in 2007, but the notice of his court hearing for immigration proceedings wasn’t sent out until 2010, to an old address, Bennion said.
Because Orellana-Garcia never received the letter, he missed his court date and was ordered deported by a Philadelphia judge, he said.
Representatives from ICE’s local Office of Chief Counsel, prosecuting Orellana-Garcia’s deportation hearing, declined to comment on the case, saying it was against the office’s policies.
Harold Ort, an ICE spokesman, would say only: “(Orellana-Garcia) was ordered removed by an immigration judge in absentia in May 2010. He was subsequently arrested by ICE officers in July 2011 as a fugitive alien. However, in August 2011 an immigration judge granted a motion to reopen the case.”
Orellana-Garcia’s example is common under the “unforgiving and inhumane” immigration system in the U.S., said Douglas Massey, an immigration expert and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.
“This guy is just the latest face in a bureaucratic system that’s doing this to hundreds of thousands of people every year,” Massey said. “Congress has made it very difficult to be an immigrant in the U.S. today.”
A 1996 law made immigrants — even permanent residents — subject to deportation if ever convicted of a crime, whether the crime was the result of changes in immigration law or something minor done by a youth who has since turned his or her life around, he added.
The government has “streamlined” the deportation process, allowing record numbers of immigrants to be detained, often in secret and without a trial, Massey said.
In the last fiscal year, ICE deported nearly 400,000 people, the largest number in the agency’s history, according to John Morton, director of the agency.
Among the 396,906 people deported, more than 1,000 were convicted of homicide. An additional 5,800 were sexual offenders, and about 80,000 had been convicted of drug-related crimes or driving under the influence.
“This comes down to focusing our resources as best we can on our priorities,” Morton said. “We continue to hope for comprehensive immigration reform at a national level, working with the Congress, but in the meantime, we work with the resources we have, under the laws we have.”
The agency has three priority areas: the identification and removal of criminals and national security threats, fugitives, and recent border entrants and others who game the system, according to its website. The agency said focusing on these areas has had a profound positive effect on public safety.
About 55 percent of the people deported in the last fiscal year had felony or misdemeanor convictions. The number of deported aliens convicted of crimes is up 89 percent from 2008, according to agency officials.
Because of his drug arrests and underage DUI, Orellana-Garcia falls under one of ICE’s high priorities for deportation.
In a way, Orellana-Garcia was lucky his fiancee witnessed his apprehension and was able to secure a lawyer before being rushed out of the country, Massey said.
But Orellana-Garcia’s family isn’t feeling so lucky.
Winkler, five-and-a-half months pregnant with their second child, had to move out of their Perkasie home, squeezing into Orellana-Garcia’s mother’s place in Allentown. She had to get a full-time factory job in Pennsburg, leaving Noah with her mother in Milford during the day.
Before Orellana-Garcia was detained, Winkler was a full-time mom, while Orellana-Garcia worked 53-hour weeks to support his growing family.
Despite the long workweeks, Orellana-Garcia still found time to take his young son to the park or other outings, Winkler said.
“It’s a handful, trying to take care of a 3-year-old, being pregnant, working and having the stress of not knowing what’s going to happen to Miguel on top of that,” she said.
The stress has affected Noah as well. The once calm and collected young boy now acts out, constantly telling his mother he’s mad.
He hoards snapshots of his father, telling Winkler, “I need these pictures so I don’t forget my daddy.”
Though they talk on the phone daily, Winkler has only been to see Orellana-Garcia once in the last three months because the long drive to York for a half-hour visit is too depressing to bear. Noah hasn’t been to visit at all because Orellana-Garcia doesn’t want his son to see him behind glass in a prison, Winkler said.
If Orellana-Garcia is deported, moving with him to El Salvador is not an option for Winkler and Noah, especially since she also has a 9-year-old son with another father.
Orellana-Garcia has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. and barely remembers his time in El Salvador. His family — mother, father, siblings, grandfather — has been living in America legally for years. His three younger siblings are citizens who were born in this country.
Orellana-Garcia never embarked on the path to citizenship because under temporary protected status, it’s very difficult to get a green card, according to Bennion. While Orellana-Garcia had TPS, he would have had to leave the U.S., triggering multiple bars to re-entry, before applying for permanent residency, he added. This would have been true, even if he had married Winkler while his TPS was active, Bennion said.
Though Orellana-Garcia still speaks Spanish — in addition to English — he would stick out as a foreigner were he to go back to the country of his birth, Bennion said.
“He would be an obvious target for kidnapping,” he said. “(Gangs) would assume he had family in the U.S. who could pay ransom.”
On those grounds, Bennion plans to apply for asylum for Orellana-Garcia, though he’s not optimistic about the chances for success. He’s hoping to get Orellana released from detention to give him the chance to prepare and fight his case in court.
“It’s not a huge request,” Bennion said.
Winkler is hoping the judge on Thursday will look beyond Orellana-Garcia’s criminal record to see the family man he is now.
“(The judge) sees this little part of Miguel’s life,” Winkler said. “He doesn’t know who Miguel is. He doesn’t see him at work, or at home with his family.”
And Noah is just hoping to see his father again.
“I want daddy to come home because I miss him,” Noah said.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Farm workers, Vermont governor discuss immigration issues
3:24 PM, Oct. 17, 2011
Written by Mike Donoghue
A small group of farm workers and supporters say they were pleased with their meeting last week with Gov. Peter Shumlin and his legal counsel to discuss immigration issues in Vermont and ways to modify policing policies when it comes to migrant workers.
"We feel that it was a good dialogue. They did not make any specific promises, but we look forward to keeping the conversation open," said Natalia Fajardo of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project.
Five farm workers and five other supporters, including translators, met with legal counsel Beth Robinson for more than an hour, Fajardo and Robinson estimated. They said Shumlin was able to stay for about 20 minutes.
"It was helpful to hear everybody's perspective," Robinson said. She said the conversation centered on "how they would like to see how the state moves in general with some goals."
The meeting came on the heels of a Sept. 13 traffic stop by Vermont State Police that netted two Mexicans whom the U.S. Border Patrol said were in the United States illegally. The State Police Advisory Commission ruled Wednesday that Senior Trooper Jared Hatch had followed the department's Bias Free Policing Policy after stopping a Vermonter driving 88 mph in a 65 mph zone on Interstate 89 in Middlesex.
Excessive nervousness, inconsistent answers and a failure on the part of the two passengers to make eye contact with Hatch led the trooper to ask additional questions, the advisory commission said. The trooper's questions were not motivated by the passengers' actual or perceived race, color or national origin, according to the commission , which consists of seven state residents appointed by the governor.
The panel noted that Hatch, when stopping the compact pickup, was unable see the driver, who was from Vermont, or the two passengers, who were from Mexico.
Danilo Lopez and his cousin Antonio Meza-Sandoval were later detained.
Lopez, who is active with the Solidarity Project, "contacted them and this set off a chain of calls and rapid response eventually leading to the farmworkers release from Border Patrol later that evening," the Solidarity Project's news release said.
The director of the Vermont State Police said Friday that the issue of bias-free policing is an important topic. Col. Tom L'Esperance said he spoke with Brendan O'Neill from the Solidarity Project and is hoping to schedule a meeting with him this week.
"The dialogue regarding immigration needs to continue, so that the Vermont State Police can ensure the fair and humane treatment of all people living and working in Vermont while providing professional, accountable, and compassionate law enforcement services," L'Esperance said in a written statement to the Burlington Free Press.
Part of the meeting with Shumlin included viewing a five-minute video designed to show the Middlesex case wasn't an isolated incident, Fajardo said. She said the incidents outlined in the video happened in Vermont, including one at Burlington International Airport. The video also includes one person talking about not wanting to report a theft because of immigration status.
The Solidarity Project said the five farm workers at the meeting represent at least 1,500 workers who help sustain the dairy industry and landscapes. The topics Friday came from a "long series of meetings and surveys by the farmworker community," Fajardo said.
Lopez, one of the two undocumented immigrants detained Sept. 13, had chatted in passing with Shumlin about immigration issues about three weeks before the stop.
BRIDGETON POLICE BEAT
Oct. 18, 2011
Jose J. Jimenez, 21, of East Avenue was arrested about 5:25 p.m. Saturday and charged with driving while intoxicated after his vehicle sideswiped a marked police car that had stopped at the side of the road for a traffic stop. He was held in the county jail on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer.
Public safety: Man arrested on 347 for human smuggling
Published: Friday, October 21, 2011 11:08 AM MST
A Casa Grande man was arrested Monday night by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office on Arizona 347 for human smuggling.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Elias Johnson said a deputy heading north on Arizona 347 observed two vehicles traveling in tandem at a high rate of speed around 7:45 p.m. Monday. The lead vehicle was a tan 2000 Lincoln LS and the second was a blue 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan. The deputy ran the license plates and both came back as operating with cancelled insurance. The deputy initiated a traffic stop on the lead vehicle at milepost 167. The car came to a stop and two Hispanic males fled into the desert. The driver and a passenger in the rear were apprehended. The second vehicle got away.
The driver was identified as Dominique Reggie Guillen, 18, of Casa Grande. Johnson said Guillen told the deputy he was only 17 years old, but MVD records confirmed he was 18. The passenger was identified as Gregoro Antonio Martinez-Diaz of Mexico. Martinez-Diaz was found to be in the country illegally and did not speak English.
Deputies searched both Guillen and Martinez-Diaz. Guillen was in possession of $1,256.60 and Martinez-Diaz was in possession of $2,750. Martinez-Diaz was turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents for processing.
Guillen was booked into jail for human smuggling and unlawful transport of an illegal immigrant.
Immigrant detainee's request to stay in U.S. to marry denied
Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011, 7:35 PM
By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger
NEWARK — For Ruben Quinteros the news keeps getting worse. Quinteros, an immigrant detainee sitting in Delaney Hall in Newark, was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers seven days before he was due to get married last month.
He had overstayed his visa. Today, his lawyer received a fax from ICE rejecting his request for a Stay of Removal.
Quinteros and his fiance, Neida Lavayen have been together for two years and had planned to marry Sept. 23. Since her fiance was detained, Lavayen has been on a mission to marry Quinteros. But she’s hit roadblocks every step of the way.
She cannot find a clerk willing to travel into the detention center to issue a marriage license, which can only be obtained in person. And Quinteros is not permitted to leave the detention center, though ICE officials would permit a clerk to issue a license on site.
If he is married, Quinteros has a good chance of getting a green card and staying in the country, attorneys specializing in immigration law have said. ICE already has the travel papers to send Quinteros back to Uruguay, an ICE official said.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Escondido woman turned over to immigration after domestic violence incident
By EDWARD SIFUENTES | Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 8:00 pm
A woman who called the Escondido Police Department to report that she was beaten by her boyfriend was herself arrested and later turned over to immigration authorities after she was booked at the Vista jail, a case that critics say illustrates the problems inherent in local police getting involved in immigration enforcement.
Elena Cabrera, 36, said she came home tired from work on the morning of Aug. 20 and wanted to sleep a little. But her then live-in boyfriend, Jorge Melgar, 50, wanted her to do house chores and began beating her when she refused. When police arrived, he told the officers that she had also hit him, Cabrera said.
Cabrera said she did not hit him, but was arrested anyway. She had a bloody lip and bruises on her face, she said.
Escondido police Lt. Craig Carter said both people were arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and there were injuries on both of them. Carter said the department did not turn Cabrera over to immigration authorities.
After the couple was arrested, the couple's four minor children were left home alone, Cabrera said. Police are investigating the family's complaint that the kids were left without supervision, Carter said.
Bill Flores, a retired assistant sheriff and a member of the human rights group El Grupo, said Escondido's close working relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hurts its ability to protect the community. He said police officers knew that Cabrera would be screened for immigration violations at the Vista jail and chose to take her into custody.
Incidents like Cabrera's hurt the department's relationship with the community, Flores said, making immigrants less likely to report crimes in the future.
"Everybody in that neighborhood found out what happened," Flores said. "She was a victim of domestic violence, she was taken to jail and she ended up getting turned over to ICE. All because she sought help from the Escondido Police Department."
After being arrested, Cabrera was taken to the Escondido Police Department and later to the Vista jail, where ICE placed an immigration hold on her, apparently as part of its Secure Communities program. Secure Communities links local jails to federal databases to identify illegal immigrants who are booked into the facilities.
"I never thought that this would happen to me," Cabrera said during an interview last week. "To me, it was a complete surprise."
A spokeswoman for ICE in San Diego declined to comment on the case.
Cabrera spent several days at the Vista jail before she was turned over to immigration authorities. Cabrera had an immigration petition pending as a victim of domestic violence related to a prior relationship. Under a law called the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, battered women who are married to U.S. citizens can apply for an immigrant visa.
Melgar, a legal resident, was not turned over to immigration authorities. He spent four days in jail before he was released.
Lilia Velasquez, a San Diego immigration attorney representing Cabrera, said having the visa petition does not necessarily mean that a victim is safe from deportation. However, under a new policy by the Obama administration, immigration authorities have discretion on when to pursue deportation procedures.
The Obama administration has said it wants to focus its resources on deporting violent illegal immigrant criminals, immigrants who have been ordered deported by an immigration judge and people who repeatedly have been caught in the country illegally.
"Given the new policy of prosecutorial discretion, ICE should have removed the hold (on Cabrera) once they ascertained she was a (Violence Against Women Act) beneficiary," Velasquez said.
The San Diego County District Attorney's office declined to file charges against either Cabrera or her boyfriend. She was released from immigration custody on Aug. 28 due to her Violence Against Women Act visa petition.
Critics say that the Obama administration's immigration policies, including Secure Communities, have created a dragnet that catches not only violent criminals but also people whose only violation is being in the country illegally. Those policies break families apart, tearing parents away from their U.S.-born children, critics say.
While she was detained, Cabrera's four children, ages 3 to 17 years old, were left in her Escondido home without supervision, she said. Her oldest daughter, Tayana Zarate, 17, said she had to care for her siblings while trying to figure out where her mother was being held and how to have her released.
Tayana said a neighbor helped her buy food and drove her around to find her mother.
"They never asked who I was, my name, how old I was, is there a grown-up in the house?" Tayana said last week. "They don't care."
The family filed a complaint with the police department for leaving the children without supervision. Tayana and her mother spoke with police detectives last Thursday night about the complaint.
Carter said the officers noted in their report that they left the children in the care of an "18-year-old female."
The department also came under fire last year when it announced that it had forged a new alliance with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement allowing several immigration officers to work out of its headquarters. Operation Joint Effort, as the program is called, is the only one of its kind in the county. It has been credited by the department with the arrest of over 400 criminal illegal immigrants since it started in May 2010.
Under the program, immigration officers are available to help police officers identify people who have been previously deported or who have been ordered deported, according to Escondido police officials. They are also available to join the police on special operations, such as anti-gang raids.
However, Carter said that Cabrera's arrest had nothing to do with Operation Joint Effort.
"This has nothing to do with immigration," Carter said. "This is a domestic violence issue."
Protesters call for immigrant's release
Last Updated: October 20. 2011 1:00AM
Josh Katzenstein/ The Detroit News
Detroit— More than a dozen people braved the rain Wednesday afternoon to rally in front of the Detroit office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of Cesar Hernandez Montoya, a man they hope won't be deported to Mexico.
The 24-year-old, who lives with his family in Sturgis, has been detained at the Calhoun County Correctional Center in Battle Creek since August, when police found him driving without a license and later discovered he didn't have proper immigration documents.
Montoya, a Sturgis High School graduate, worked as a disc jockey and was hoping to go to college next year, family members said. He was active in church and the community and never had a problem with the law before the traffic violation.
In a statement Wednesday, immigration officials said Montoya will remain in custody until his removal proceedings; no date was available Wednesday.
"(He) was allowed to voluntarily depart to his home country on two separate occasions and returned without permission prior to his most recent arrest," the statement read. "Following a hearing, he was denied bond by an immigration judge and ordered detained. He remains in custody pending the outcome of removal proceedings."
More than 2,000 people sent petitions to ICE asking for Montoya to be freed, and Wednesday's rally was an additional show of support, backers said.
Austin Police: [Immigrants] Held Hostage
Posted by Chace Murphy
Thursday, October 20th, 2011
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Austin police have arrested a man after finding at least eight men they believe were immigrant hostages at a house on the city’s east side.
Fernando Sandoval Salazar was booked into the Travis County Jail charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Bond was set at $100,000. Online jail records listed no attorney for the Mexican national.
Police Cmdr. Donald Baker says one of the suspected captives was able to call his wife in New York and tell her he was being held against his will for a $1,800 ransom. Officers arrived at the house Sunday evening and found Salazar, whom Baker said appeared to be in charge of the operation. Other suspects are being sought.
D.C. won’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement
By Tim Craig, Published: October 19
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray reaffirmed Wednesday that District police and other public agencies will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leaving it up to federal immigration officials to determine on their own whether a resident is in the country illegally.
The decision reinforces executive orders by past District mayors, but Gray (D) and council members say it goes further by explicitly setting standards for how the city’s criminal justice system will deal with immigrants.
“In the spirit of ‘One City,’ and assuring the equal treatment of citizens and noncitizens alike, I am delighted to sign to this,” Gray said.
Under the new guidelines, which Gray signed while surrounded by Hispanic and African immigrants, D.C. police and corrections officials will not ask those they come in contact with about their immigration status. District police also will not enforce an ICE detainer or warrant issued against someone who has not committed another crime.
Police and jail officials are forbidden from contacting ICE to have the agency investigate the legal status of someone who has been arrested.
Instead, Gray and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said, police will process all offenders in the same manner and leave it up to the FBI and ICE to decide whether to check on their legal status.
For less-serious crimes, such as violating the city’s open-container law, the District no longer collects fingerprints. So the FBI and ICE can’t determine immigration status, officials said.
“Law enforcement agencies that honor ICE detainers help protect public safety,” ICE spokeswoman Cori W. Bassett said.
For major crimes, such as robbery or drug possession, police will continue to collect the offender’s fingerprints and forward them to the FBI. It will be up to the FBI to share information with ICE.
If ICE determines that it wants to detain offenders upon their release from jail, the agency will have only 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, to pick up a suspected illegal immigrant from custody. The city will not hold inmates that ICE wants detained past 48 hours, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander said.
“What this does is makes clear immigration status is not relevant in a criminal matter and makes clear the District will not take any affirmative step to enforce immigration civil matters,” Quander said.
Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police labor committee, blasted the decision, saying that until now local criminal justice officials were willing to give ICE more than 48 hours to pick up someone it wanted detained.
“Vince Gray right now is under such duress, he is willing to pander and fold to any group in order to take the scrutiny off himself,” Baumann said. “He has now decided to go out and jeopardize public safety. This is not about regular immigrants. This is about hard-core criminals and bad, bad guys.”
In Prince William County, where law enforcement officials check the immigration status of those arrested, Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) called Gray’s move “disturbing and reprehensible.”
“I find it incredibly ironic that the immigration laws of the United States are not even enforced within the boundaries of our nation’s capital,” Stewart said in a statement.
Gray countered that the policy will make the District safer by making someone in the country illegally less afraid to interact with police or report alleged crimes.
Some immigrants and activists played down Gray’s order, noting that District mayors have been distancing the city from immigration enforcement for decades.
“Mayor Gray has implemented and confirmed a policy that was initiated by the Marion Barry administration in 1984,” activist Jose Sueiro said.
But others called it a major morale boost for local immigrants concerned about tough new immigration laws in several states, including Arizona and Alabama.
“It reinforces things for people who are scared,” said Maria Gomez, president of Mary’s Center, an Adams Morgan health center. “And people have been running scared.”
The Case of the Concerned Citizen, the Harmless Korean, and the Port Angeles Border Patrol (Seattle Weekly)
The Case of the Concerned Citizen, the Harmless Korean, and the Port Angeles Border Patrol
By Keegan Hamilton
Thu., Oct. 20 2011 at 9:00 AM
Hung Han was helping his elderly parents pack up their produce stand at the Port Angeles farmers market on the afternoon of Saturday, September 3 when he was approached, seemingly at random, by a pair of Border Patrol agents. The slender 37-year-old became "visibly nervous," as the agents later noted in their report, when they asked him for proof of citizenship. He replied in broken English that all he had was a Washington ID. A crowd of onlookers gaped as Han, wearing slacks and a button-down dress shirt, was then handcuffed and taken away in the back of a Border Patrol SUV. He spent the next 45 days locked up in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
As the Peninsula Daily News later reported, the crowd at the farmers market was "shocked" by Han's apparently unprovoked arrest. It was the reportedly the first time the Border Patrol ever visited the twice-weekly market, and Han was the only person they questioned.
But according to documents obtained by Seattle Weekly, Han was targeted because an anonymous "concerned citizen" called to report an illegal immigrant from Korea "hanging around" the farmers market. Han's family has sold sushi and vegetables from their garden at the market for the past three years, and their son routinely lends a hand, a family friend said after Han's court hearing on Tuesday in Tacoma.
Though they had no proof that Han was actually undocumented -- save for his poor command of English and nervous mannerisms -- the agents detained Han and the Department of Homeland Security set his bail at $60,000. He has no criminal history, his mother is a legal permanent resident, and his father and sister are U.S. citizens. His only previous run-in with the law was a speeding ticket.
A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not return a request for comment on Han's case.
Han's arrest and lengthy detention are the latest in a recent series of controversial actions by the Border Patrol outpost on the Olympic Peninsula.The agency is building a new $5.7 million headquarters on the outskirts of Port Angeles, and some residents -- including the mayor -- have complained about the agency's aggressive tactics and alleged racial profiling. In May, a 42-year-man drowned while attempting to run away from the Border Patrol in nearby Forks, and three months later whistleblower agent Christian Sanchez told reporters that the area's agents have "no purpose, no mission," and are wasting taxpayer dollars.
On Tuesday, an immigration judge reduced Han's bond amount to $1,500 after hearing the evidence in the case and testimony from his attorney that Han helps care for his ailing father and has "strong ties" in the community, where he has lived for more than eight years. His parents paid the money, and Han was released later that afternoon with orders to appear at another hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
Han was represented by Jorge Barón, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Barón believes the case is further proof that many of the record number of immigrants detained and deported over the past year are not threats to public safety, despite the government's claims to the contrary.
"ICE is saying we're focusing our resources on people who are dangers to the community," Barón says. "That's certainly not the case, at least not in our region. What you hear coming out of Washington, D.C., is not the reality -- or at a least it's not a fully accurate portrait -- of what's happening on the ground."
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Teen cartel killer’s mom sentenced in immigration case
Written by Morgan Lee
7:57 p.m., Oct. 18, 2011
SAN DIEGO — The mother of a 15-year-old San Diego-born boy convicted this year of killing on behalf of a Mexican drug cartel has been sentenced to one year in jail on immigration charges, officials said Tuesday.
Yolanda Lugo Jimenez, 44, pleaded guilty in February in U.S. District Court to being in the country illegally after being deported to Mexico because of a 1997 felony drug conviction. She was sentenced Monday by Judge Roger Benitez.
Lugo was detained by federal agents outside her Logan Heights apartment on Dec. 6 — four days after Mexican soldiers captured her son, Edgar Jimenez Lugo as he prepared to board a flight from central Mexico to Tijuana in hopes of reaching his mother.
Edgar was convicted in July of homicide and organized crime charges in the beheading of four men and is serving a three-year sentence in a juvenile detention facility in Mexico. The August 2010 killings ended with mutilated bodies being strung from a bridge in Cuernavaca, a tourist destination just south of Mexico City.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed a hold on Yolanda Lugo that would turn her over to immigration officials once her sentence is completed in December, said agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack. A previous conviction makes it likely Lugo will be deported.
She might seek to defer deportation, said her attorney, Jack Boltax, who declined to specify on what grounds.
Lugo’s husband, an undocumented immigrant with no criminal record, also was arrested on Dec. 6 and was returned to Mexico. The couple have two elementary school-aged daughters who were born and raised in the United States. Edgar is Lugo’s child from a previous relationship.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Monroe college student faces deportation back to Poland
Vinti Singh, Staff Writer
Published 10:30 p.m., Friday, October 14, 2011
MONROE -- There was nothing "voluntary" about it, but 19-year-old Paulina Krynska felt as if she had no other choice. If she didn't sign the voluntary deportation agreement, she would have to go into hiding, constantly dreading the day Immigration and Customs Enforcement tracked her down.
She signed the document. But it was a decision she would come to regret -- just a few hours later.
Krynska's father, Dariusz, and mother, Ewa, first came to the U.S. on tourist visas on the advice of relatives in New York and moved into an apartment in Queens. Krynska's father then obtained a work visa and her mother a student visa. The family moved to Monroe in 2005.
Krynska came to the U.S. from Poland on a tourist visa when she was 11, but never returned there. She has a Social Security number that she got when she was issued a work permit for her first high school job. She used that to get a driver's license and pay taxes on the wages she earned working at local coffee shops. She was able to extend her stay in the U.S. when she was granted dependent status, but she has been here illegally since the extension expired in 2006, according to documents the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent her.
When DHS sent her a letter that said she was "removable," her family hired a lawyer who helped them navigate the immigration court system. In August, he told Krynska she had little choice but to sign the voluntary departure.
The car ride to Hartford on the day she went to sign the agreement was mostly silent, she said. Her lawyer asked her if she was sure of her decision. It was highly unlikely she would be allowed to return to the U.S. unless it was as a fiance to an American citizen, she was told.
"Mostly, I was just like sad," Krynska said. "I wanted to cry."
She signed the document on Aug. 18 at 8:30 a.m. She agreed to leave the country no later than Dec. 16. But what she didn't know was on that very same day, President Barack Obama announced he was establishing a new process to handle deportation cases. His administration would focus more effort on deporting criminal immigrants in the country illegally. The president said in May that immigration officials would focus on violent offenders and not families or "folks who are looking to scrape together an income."
Krynska graduated from Masuk High School and attends Naugatuck Community College as a liberal arts and science major. She plans to transfer to Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and get a degree in business or marketing. Krynska feels she qualifies as an immigrant in good standing.
Her lawyer, Crescenzo DeLuca, sent in paperwork to have her case reopened, but in September, Krynska was notified her appeal was denied. DeLuca could not be reached for comment. The Krynskas said he was very diligent about letting them know the consequences of Paulina signing the deportation agreement.
Krynska came to the U.S. to join her parents who had settled here in 1998. Her parents wanted to get established before bringing her over. But when Krynska was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and spent three weeks in a Warsaw hospital, her mother decided she should come to the U.S. as soon as possible.
"I was little, and obviously an 11-year-old isn't going to understand the immigration system," Krynska said. "I had no clue what was going on. I thought, I'm moving to this country, I'm going to be with my parents, I'm going to be happy."
Krynska and her parents have stayed in the country on various extended visas and has applied for a green card more than once, but her application was always rejected. Her family said they got bad advice from previous immigration lawyers.
It's not uncommon for immigrants to be swindled by lawyers who prey on their lack of knowledge about the complex immigration system, said Wayne Chapple, director of immigration services at the International Institute of Connecticut and a private immigration attorney.
Krynska has many concerns about returning to Poland. She is worried that if she is deported, it will be difficult for her to afford insulin and blood tests for her diabetes care. Also, Krynska said she can speak Polish, but cannot read or write in the language, so it would be difficult for her to attend school or find a job.
Krynska has only enrolled in two classes this semester -- English and U.S. history-- because she does not want to pay too much in tuition if she will have to leave.
Krynska's friend, Sarah Magilnick, has started an online petition to garner support for her case. She has collected letters from friends and acquaintances on Krynska's behalf. On Wednesday, she planned to mail copies of the letters to 20 state officials including U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
"I'm usually the type of person who sits back and lets people be pushed around, but it would be like losing a sister if she has to leave," Magilnick said. "I know she's so happy here and everything she has is here. It's like helping family."
Krynska said she got advice from the daughter of Tomasz Kocab, another Polish immigrant in Monroe who was on the verge of removal, to contact U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., because he was able to help her family.
"What we want to get out of it is to reopen my case and see if I do qualify under the new policy," Krynska said. "I do want to stay here and go to school. Maybe they can give me a student visa and give me a green card."
While Krynska is pinning her hopes on Obama's new immigration policy, Chapple says she shouldn't count on it to help her because it is not yet an official policy and could change.
Chapple said at best, all Krynska could hope for is an extension of her deportation case so she could go to court with her parents.
"You never know about new immigration laws, and let's face it, no one is agreeing on anything in Washington and immigration is not a high priority when you're looking at jobs, economy, and the national budget."
But there have been various cases around the country that have been excused under the new order.
ICE would not comment on Krynska's case.
Krynska's parents are scheduled to appear in court in May. Their lawyer told them they have a better chance of being allowed to stay, since they have been in the country more than 10 years and they have a second daughter, who was born in the U.S. five years ago.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Cousin: Man dies after abandoned by smugglers
NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) - The Border Patrol says that an illegal immigrant has died from exposure in the southern Arizona desert over the weekend and that two others were rescued before succumbing to the heat.
Border Patrol spokesman Brent Cagen said Monday that agents in Nogales found a 26-year-old Mexican man unconscious in the desert on Friday afternoon. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital but died Saturday.
Cagen says the man's cousin was with him and didn't need medical attention.
The cousin told agents that smugglers abandoned the pair when his cousin couldn't keep up.
On Sunday, agents in Casa Grande also saved a 39-year-old woman who was lost in the desert and called 911 and a 38-year-old man suffering from severe dehydration and heat exposure.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Severe stutter mars Jamaican's asylum case in US
By Maryclaire Dale
Associated Press / October 16, 2011
PHILADELPHIA—Derrick Cotterel was a farmworker who came to the United States from Jamaica, picking citrus in Florida and apples in West Virginia for 10 years, before a pay dispute with a landscaping employer led to his arrest last year on robbery charges.
Given his long-expired visa, the arrest landed Cotterel in immigration custody in York, Pa. But judges there struggled for nearly a year to understand his request for political asylum.
Cotterel, 42, speaks a Jamaican patois, or Creole, that might alone be difficult for Americans to grasp. But his speech is further compromised by a severe stutter that makes him nearly impossible to understand.
Nor can he read or write. So many of his thoughts remain trapped inside of him.
"Me can, me can, me can ... " Cotterel once stammered to an immigration judge charged with deciding his case. "I said me can't say what (indiscernible). Please, sir, I say I can't tell you what I want to tell you about."
Unlike criminal defendants, immigration detainees like Cotterel have no right to free counsel. So Cotterel sat in the York County Prison, where about 700 detained immigrants are housed with 1,700 convicted or suspected criminals, from July 2010 until May while frustrated judges continued his bail and asylum hearings.
One judge tried to toss him only yes-or-no questions about his political asylum claim, and asked Cotterel to raise his left or right hand, depending on his response.
On May 18, Judge Andrew Arthur tried another tack. He asked two fellow inmates from Jamaica to translate. That worked to a point, though Arthur was not always sure whose answer was being relayed to him.
One inmate-translator told the judge that police had failed to investigate the killing of Cotterel's brother "because of the political activity."
"Did he say that or did you say that?" Arthur asked.
York immigration lawyer Craig R. Shagin is frequently asked to take cases pro bono, but can only take a few, and chooses those he thinks have merit. He recently agreed to help Cotterel -- who lost his asylum bid -- with his appeal. He believes his client could be killed if he returns to Jamaica.
"These types of cases, you basically have death-penalty consequences while employing traffic-court procedures. It's very frightening," Shagin said.
Immigrants have every right to hire counsel or find pro bono lawyers to take their cases, noted spokeswoman Elaine Komis of the U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review. And immigrant aid groups get government funding to inform detainees of their rights.
But few have the money to hire lawyers, and there are a finite number of immigration lawyers near York, which is two hours west of Philadelphia. So 84 percent of detained immigrants go it alone, according to Angela Eveler, director of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center in York.
"The need for legal services in the immigration detention system far outweighs the capacity of nonprofit legal services organizations. It has become a legal and humanitarian crisis," Eveler said.
Judge Arthur, who presided over most of Cotterel's hearings, had called the American Civil Liberties Union on May 10 -- as he delayed another hearing -- to ask them to represent him.
The ACLU has a single immigration lawyer in York, Valerie Burch, who works out of her home. The ACLU agreed to file a friend-of-the-court brief that argues for the government to provide lawyers to disabled immigrants, based on fairness and disability law. The group has a similar class-action lawsuit pending in California that seeks to guarantee lawyers for mentally ill immigrants.
In Cotterel's case, they also want the government to provide a speech professional to determine whether an electronic device or other tools could help him communicate to the court.
"Mr. Cotterel found himself ordered removed from the United States at a hearing that he could not meaningfully participate in," the ACLU wrote.
Cotterel, a brawny man, has supported himself mostly as a farmer and fisherman -- jobs that don't require communication skills. In Jamaica, he lived with his brother for a time, until the brother was killed.
"He told me he never gotten government benefits. He has always supported himself," Burch said. "He takes great pride in that."
After exhausting exchanges between Cotterel, Arthur and the two inmate-translators on May 18, Cotterel disclosed that two brothers had been killed in what he deemed politically fueled violence. His family belonged to the Peoples' National Party, and one brother handed out government contracts, he said.
Cotterel said he himself was injured and scarred in a 1998 machete attack. He said he fears being killed.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyer, Jeffrey T. Bubier, was sympathetic, according to a hearing transcript.
"If I was him, I would be afraid of going back to Jamaica too, but I don't think he's established that more likely than not he's going to be persecuted on account of any political opinions," Bubier argued, citing the standard for asylum relief. "And (he) certainly hasn't established that the government of Jamaica is going to torture him."
Arthur concluded that Cotterel had testified credibly. But he was unconvinced of the political violence claim, and denied the asylum bid.
However, the judge seemed unsure of whether the "translators" amounted to a proper accommodation, and agreed to certify an appeal to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals.
This past week, ICE lawyers notified Shagin that they will not oppose the motion for another asylum hearing. The Bureau of Immigration Appeals will ultimately make that call.
Arthur had set bail at $1,500, but Cotterel's friends in Martinsburg, W.Va., have so far scraped together just $900.
And now, there's another hiccup to overcome: Cotterel was recently moved to state custody in West Virginia because he missed a court date in the robbery case while he was incarcerated in York. He has no prior convictions.
According to Shagin, the case stems from an argument that ensued when the landscaper, who was also Cotterel's landlord, came to the apartment and said he wasn't going to pay him.
"You take for granted how valuable the ability to speak is until you don't have it," Shagin said. "It's particularly bad if you don't have it and you're being accused. You're unable to give your side of the story."
Cotterel has now spent 15 months behind bars.
"You can imagine how hard it is to be in a criminal prison, and having a handicap," Shagin said. "It makes you very vulnerable."
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Broken promises: Undocumented immigrants are an easy target for dubious services.
By: Maria Ines Zamudio / October 14, 2011
After spending 12 days in an immigration detention center, Mario De la Rosa received welcomed news about his pending deportation case.
Within three days of his release, Margaret Carrasco, who De la Rosa said introduced herself as an immigration attorney, went to the family’s house to talk about the case. Carrasco promised not only to cancel his deportation but also to help the entire family to obtain legal residency.
Carrasco said she would initially charge $500.
“She gave me faith and made me feel secure about the future,” De la Rosa’s partner, Clara, said in Spanish. “I saw her like an angel.”
On March 26, Carrasco represented De la Rosa in his first immigration court hearing. She later filled out a political asylum application and gave it to De la Rosa, telling him to hand-deliver it to the judge at his second hearing.
Carrasco failed to attend the May 6 hearing, saying she was sick. As instructed, De la Rosa handed in the application, but the judge summarily denied it for having no basis for political asylum.
The judge told De la Rosa that Carrasco wasn’t a lawyer and advised him to go to the National Immigrant Justice Center for proper representation.
“I felt really bad. I was frustrated. How is it possible that she deceived us like this?” De la Rosa said. “We left court thinking, ‘What are we going to do? I don’t have the money to pay someone else, and what if they do the same thing to us?’”
On Oct. 14, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office file a lawsuit against Carrasco alleging that she posed “as a licensed attorney” and “cheated immigrants out of their upfront payments and put them at risk for deportation.”
“Because the immigration process is so complex and consumers are often desperate for help, the environment is ripe for scam artists,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a press release. “This defendant completely misled consumers who needed help, taking their money and putting them at great risk for deportation.”
De la Rosa’s story is one of the many cases of dubious immigration services exploiting helpless immigrants unfamiliar with the country’s judicial system.
Few researchers have been able to quantify the precise extent of the problem over the years. But a 2004 study published in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal found that at least tens of thousands across the country are defrauded every year.
The Immigrant’s Legal Needs Survey, conducted in 1996, found that two-thirds of noncitizens rely upon personal sources of information to find a legal service provider, and that noncitizens who turn to notarios, or public notaries, are not fluent in English. The study also found that about half of those obtaining help from notarios are living in the country illegally and more vulnerable to fraud.
Despite the paucity of data, the issue has received attention of public officials. In 2004, for example, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law a measure that prohibits a notary public, unless he or she is a lawyer, from accepting fees for immigration advice.
And, in June, the Federal Trade Commission, along with several other government agencies, launched an initiative to crack down on these crimes.
Anna Law, associate professor at DePaul University and immigration law expert, said immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are an ideal target for scam artists. “You are dealing with a vulnerable population,” Law said. “We are talking about people who don’t have a lot of money. The lack of education is also an issue.”
“A good lawyer will tell the client what the chances of winning are” before charging or taking a case, said Reid Trautz, director of the Practice and Professionalism Center at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Some want to take advantage. They will take the money even though the chance of success is small. A good lawyer will say, ‘There is nothing you can do. Save your money.’”
Since 2002, the office has filed 10 lawsuits involving fraudulent immigration services, including the one filed against Carrasco in October.
But immigration experts say most immigration fraud goes unreported.
“They are trying to avoid detention. They are not going to go to the police,” Law said, adding that they are afraid the person who defrauded them could alert the immigration agency about them.
Law said the chances for immigration fraud tend to increase whenever there’s a surge in deportation cases, as seen after the 2008 implementation of the Secure Communities program, which is designed to share fingerprints of those arrested by local law enforcement agencies with federal immigration authorities.
Since fiscal year 2007, the number of deportations jumped nationally by 35 percent to 392,862 cases in fiscal year 2010.
“The potential for fraud is always there because this area of law is so complex,” Law explained. “But every time there is a change in the law or a new policy, there are new opportunities for scam artists.”
For her part, Carrasco denies all the allegations against her. She says she only identifies herself as a legal representative. “I present myself as Margaret Carrasco; never do I say that I am licensed,” she said. “I make it very, very clear.”
But Carrasco’s business card could be confusing and misleading to immigrants. It has a Loyola Law School logo on the upper left-hand side, and underneath her name it reads, “Graduate of Loyola Law School Jurisprudence 2003.” It also mentions the Chicago Bar Association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association and advises in Spanish, “Don’t sign anything” to anyone arrested or under deportation.
The Loyola Office of Registrar confirmed that Carasco graduated in 2003, but she is not a current member of either the Chicago Bar Association or the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
She is not licensed to practice law in Illinois, according to Jim Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Carrasco said she didn’t get her license to practice law because after graduating from law school, she faced family problems, including the death of her brother-in-law. She said she doesn’t have to be licensed because she is only a legal representative and works with attorneys and nonprofits. She declined to state with whom she works.
“I know sometimes there is confusion because maybe in Spanish, if you have a degree, they call you licenciada,” she said. “I know it happens. I have a person here in Waukegan that I can’t tell you how many times I tell her, ‘I’m not an attorney,’ she always keeps calling me abogada.” Both words can be used interchangeably in Spanish to mean “attorney.”
But Carrasco was listed under “attorney name” in 40 cases at the Chicago immigration court between March 2010 and June 2011, according to records from the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Eight of those cases resulted in deportation or “voluntary departure,” while the rest of the cases are still pending, the records show.
* * *
De la Rosa’s family moved to Waukegan in 1999.
“We came here hoping to find a cure” for their son, who is disabled and often has seizures, Clara said. “Now, I know that my son will never recover but I thank God that he is stable. If we had stayed in Mexico, he would not be alive.”
De la Rosa is the sole provider for the family. Clara stays home to take care of her son, who can’t speak or walk on his own and eats through a feeding tube.
“If I take him back to Mexico and it is sad to say, but the reality is that if I take him back to Mexico he will die,” she said.
De la Rosa’s trouble with criminal law began in 2003, when he was sentenced to a yearlong probation for driving without a driver’s license. This triggered a deportation proceeding against him, eventually leading to his “voluntary departure” to Mexico.
But then De la Rosa decided to re-enter the country illegally in April 2003 because his son was undergoing surgery. “I couldn’t leave them,” he said about his four children.
Then, on Feb. 11, De la Rosa was arrested for driving with only one functioning headlight. A Waukegan police officer asked for his driver’s license and proof of insurance. He had neither.
According to the police report, the officer also found an arrest warrant that had been issued against De la Rosa for violating the terms of his 2003 probation. His current attorney, Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of legal services at National Immigrant Justice Center, said the violation was a result of his “voluntary departure,” which came three months before the end of his probation.
Clara said when she contacted Carrasco, the family was desperate. She got her phone number from a friend, who knew Carrasco through her work as an immigration activist.
Carrasco had been making a name for herself as an immigration activist in Waukegan. She organized a protest to oppose the 287(g) program, for which the Waukegan Police Department had applied to receive resources for enforcing immigration laws. She also led a campaign against a city ordinance, passed in 2002, that mandates towing the cars of undocumented immigrants.
Carrasco describes herself as one of the most outspoken immigration activists in Waukegan. She was a member of the Waukegan School District 60 Board of Trustees and ran for mayor in 1997.
Carrasco said her decision to advise De la Rosa to file for political asylum came based on the judge’s suggestion. “It was the judge who stated that day in court to apply for this form of relief, not me,” Carrasco said. She claimed that she could show the court transcript to prove her claim but, despite numerous requests, failed to provide it.
Once Ruiz-Velasco took over De la Rosa’s case, she told him he could file a consumer complaint against Carrasco and guided him through the process. He filed the complaint on Aug. 25.
Two years earlier, an immigration attorney also filed a complaint with the Consumer Fraud Division against Carrasco noting that she was an unauthorized practitioner of law and potentially committing fraud in and around Waukegan.
“Carrasco is performing an unauthorized practice of law and ultimately committing fraud by taking advantage of a disenfranchised segment of society,” wrote the attorney, whose name was redacted from the complaint.
The attorney also submitted a copy of a letter Carrasco sent to her clients promising immigrants the “American dream” of becoming a citizen along with a list of required information.
“She is mucking us … just because we are undocumented,” Clara said. “She’s just a scam artist.”
Other alleged victims of Carrasco say they are too afraid to file an official complaint.
In April, Carrasco charged a 43-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man $500 each to start the process of canceling their deportation proceedings.
The woman, who declined to be named for this story for fear of retaliation, described in tears how she was arrested by immigration agents for using someone else’s Social Security number. After she was released from custody, she contacted Carrasco, who went to her house to talk about the case and allegedly promised to cancel the deportation—and even apply for a humanitarian visa, she said.
The woman paid the $500, after finding a part-time job and saving the money for five weeks. On May 3, Carrasco went to her first court appearance, where the woman was ordered to go back to court on May 15, 2012. “After court, [Carrasco] congratulated me and said, ‘You see, everything is going to be fine,’” she said.
But then her friend called her to tell her that Carrasco was not a lawyer. The woman fell deeper into depression. She is taking anti-depressants and can’t sleep at night. She said she hasn’t been able to get in touch with Carrasco since the court hearing.
About filing a complaint against Carrasco, she said, “I’m afraid of the problems it might bring me.”
The man across town is in the same situation. He was arrested after he was accused of selling false identification cards. The criminal case was resolved when he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to one year of probation. Then he was transferred to immigration custody. His wife paid Carrasco $500 to cancel his deportation case, but the couple said they haven’t been able to get a hold of her since then.
“I felt bad. I was counting on her,” he said. “I don’t have money to hire another attorney. If she did this to me, she will do it to other” immigrants facing deportation.