Posted on November 19, 2004

Freed Illegal Workers Spend Night In Shelter

Bangor Daily News, Nov. 18

BANGOR — The five Spanish-speaking men arrested earlier this year while harvesting potatoes apparently spent their first night of freedom in 46 days in a Portland homeless shelter after being left there by immigration officials. The matter was called to the attention of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has asked officials at the Department of Homeland Security to explain the situation.

The men were sentenced on Thursday, Nov. 11, in U.S. District Court in Bangor to time served after they waived indictment and pleaded guilty to possessing fake Social Security cards and fake resident alien cards.

Julio Cesar Erazo, 45, Roberto Erazo-Santos, 44, and Carlos Ernesto Vasquez-Espana, 50, all of El Salvador, and Jose Alfonso Vasquez-Rodiguez, 25, and Fernando Garcia, 38, both of Honduras, were arrested on Sept. 26 outside a residence on the Houlton Road in Mars Hill after a border patrol agent on routine patrol saw them lying on the ground.

The men were to be picked up Friday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Detention and Removal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen, who prosecuted the case, said last week after the sentencing.

Apparently, the men were taken to immigration’s Portland office, then released at the shelter.Gerry Cayer, the director of Health and Human Services for the city of Portland, contacted Collins’ office in Portland this week, Collin’s spokeswoman said Wednesday. He asked the senator to look into why the men had been left at the Oxford Street Shelter.

Efforts to reach Cayer were not successful Thursday.

Collins’ office issued a press release Wednesday stating that she has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, to look into the matter. She is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“I appreciate that workers at the Oxford Street Shelter did not turn these individuals away during a cold night and allowed them to stay in a warm and safe environment,” she said Wednesday. “But we need to examine current policy and whether the city should bear the burden of providing shelter for individuals in similar situations.”

Collins has requested that homeland security officials provide her office with a detailed explanation of the incident.

Typically, immigration officials detain illegal workers such as the five men in this case, after they have completed their sentences, Jon Haddow, the Bangor attorney who represented Erazo said Wednesday.

In similar cases handled in federal court, illegal immigrants and workers have been taken to Connecticut for a deportation hearing, and then returned to their native country.

“It is unusual for them to be released,” Haddow said. “Immigration may have been willing to give them temporary work visas so they could work for a period of time and continue to support their families.”

Haddow and the four other Bangor attorneys appointed to represent the men arranged for them to receive donated dress clothes for their court appearances and winter coats.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock last week sealed the courtroom for a few minutes during the sentencing to consider evidence that the prosecutor and defense attorneys did not want to be part of the public record.