Monday, October 6, 2008

H-2B Worker Swept Up in Arizona Crackdown (Arizona Republic c/o Lawn & Landscape Magazine)

H-2B Worker Swept Up in Arizona Crackdown

By The Arizona Republic

Sergio Martinez-Villaman was in the United States legally when he was stopped by a sheriff's deputy on June 27 during a crime sweep in Mesa. The deputy told Martinez-Villaman he had failed to use his turn signal.

The 32-year-old landscape contractor from Sinaloa, Mexico, showed the deputy, Detective Jeremy Templeton, his valid H2B seasonal-work visa, Mexican passport and other documents. But Templeton, who the Sheriff's Office said is trained to enforce immigration laws, arrested him anyway on a misdemeanor charge of failing to show a driver's license or ID.

Martinez-Villaman ended up spending 13 days behind bars before a judge ordered him released. He also lost his car.

Martinez-Villaman is among a growing list of U.S. citizens and legal workers, all Latino, who have taken legal action against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, claiming it is mistreating them in its quest to hunt down illegal immigrants.

Sheriff's officials deny that deputies are singling anyone out based on race or that deputies are mistreating people.

On Sept. 22, Martinez-Villaman filed a notice of claim with the Sheriff's Office that he intends to file a lawsuit claiming that his civil rights were violated and that he was falsely jailed.

In a separate lawsuit, a brother and sister say deputies unnecessarily stopped them in front of their north Phoenix auto-repair shop and, with weapons raised, forced them out of the car.

In the same lawsuit, a husband and wife also say that sheriff's deputies improperly asked for a Social Security card after they encountered a flooding roadblock while leaving Bartlett Lake with their two children.

That lawsuit was originally filed by a legal immigrant from Mexico who says he was wrongly detained for nine hours after deputies stopped a car in Cave Creek driven by a White driver who had just picked him up as part of a group of Latino day laborers.

Sheriff's officials have denied the allegations of mistreatment and racial profiling and vowed to continue the crime sweeps.

In the new case, Martinez-Villaman should have been given a traffic citation for driving without a license and released, said his lawyer, J. Scott Halverson.

Instead, Halverson believes Martinez-Villaman was arrested and booked into jail because the officer thought that the landscaper was an illegal immigrant with fake documents, though the officer had no basis to believe so. Martinez-Villaman presented various valid documents with matching information, including an Arizona ID issued by the state Motor Vehicles Division, a U.S. visa and a Social Security card, Halverson said.

Under an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Maricopa County jail officers are trained to check the immigration status of everyone who is booked into jail.

Capt. Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, denied that Martinez-Villaman's immigration status had anything to do with his arrest.

"Absolutely not," Chagolla said. "That's not what he was arrested for and that is not what he was booked for."

Chagolla said Martinez-Villaman was arrested because he didn't have a driver's license and that it is not unusual for deputies to book suspects into jail for the misdemeanor offense. Chagolla said it's up to the deputy's discretion whether to ticket or make an arrest.

The afternoon Martinez-Villaman was stopped, he had just gone home to get his visa and his passport so that the documents could be renewed by his employer, Moon Valley Nursery in Mesa. The documents were set to expire three days later.

Halverson said Martinez-Villaman should never have spent 13 days in jail for such a minor offense. A judge set bond at $360, which Martinez-Villaman couldn't raise because he has no family in the U.S. In jail, he wrote to jail officials, asking if he was being held because of an immigration hold. He received a document back that said, "No holds."

On July 8, a judge dismissed the charge against Martinez-Villaman after no complaint was filed. Martinez-Villaman was released the next day. According to court rules, Halverson said, a suspect is supposed to be released within three days if no criminal complaint is filed.

"He did more time than someone who had been convicted of this," Halverson said.

Martinez-Villaman also lost his car. The Sheriff's Office impounded his 2001 Daewoo, but Martinez-Villaman said he was never notified. Chagolla said he was.

The Daewoo was towed to an impound yard, which took over title of the car after it sat there for 93 days, racking up fees of $15 a day, plus the $107 towing charge. A spokesman said he didn't know what happened to the car, but it may have been crushed for metal.

Martinez-Villaman's visa has since been renewed, and he is back working at Moon Valley, where he earns about $200 a week planting trees. He said he has stopped going out except to work and mostly stays at home at the apartment he shares with five other Moon Valley workers.

"I'm afraid," he said. "I'm afraid the sheriff is going to arrest me again."

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