Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pastor sentenced in illegal immigrant visa scheme (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Pastor sentenced in illegal immigrant visa scheme

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/20/08

A Kennesaw pastor was sentenced to nine years in prison Tuesday for her part in a profitable multi-statescheme to encourage illegal immigrants to file untruthful visa applications.

The Rev. Emma Gerald, 56, was convicted in December of helping mostly Brazilian immigrants in Cobb County, Florida and other states file applications for temporary residency, work permits, and travel permits.

"I'd like to apologize to the United States," Gerald said at her sentencing hearing Tuesday in Atlanta at the U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Gerald said she "didn't think it was wrong," when she charged illegal immigrants hundreds of dollars to fill out untruthful applications.

Prosecutors had argued for a 14-year sentence, saying Gerald was responsible for more than 1,000 fraudulent applications, and her sentence was needed to deter others.

Gerald ran a small local church and conducted her scam in immigrant churches across the country.

Also found guilty of conspiracy were Gerald's son, Douglas Ross; Hudson Araujo, who helped set up meetings in Massachusetts; and Brazilian Pastor Ruy Brasil Silva, who introduced Gerald to his Bethel Christian Church congregation in Marietta. Sentencing dates for Silva and Araujo have not been set.

Some teen members of Bethel Christian Church translated Gerald's instructions into Portuguese for their congregation. They helped applicants fill out paperwork using an overhead projector and charged $30 to write boilerplate letters, they testified.

Church member Marcos Amador, 21, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to time served, which was about two years. He has been deported to Brazil.

Amador filed a visa application for himself, hoping he could stay in the United States to study medicine.

Some of the first immigrants to apply did indeed receive visas and travel permits, although undeservedly.

The visa paperwork Gerald pedaled to church members was filed under an extension of a 1986 amnesty program from the Reagan administration. Part of the requirement was that applicants lived in the United States in the 1980s.

The government received 79,080 applications and denied about 89 percent, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said. All over the country, people were applying fraudulently, said an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

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