Federal agents took an illegal immigrant to Grant Medical Center in October 2009 to collect proof of his ties to a Mexican-based drug ring.
Three months earlier, immigration agents had deported Mora to his homeland of Mexico. But the free ride home served as no deterrent. Since 2000, Mora has been deported four times, only to return time and again–most recently to Ohio.
A Dispatch investigation revealed that it is common for deported immigrants to return to the United States despite the threat of felony charges.
In another case, Juan Jose Beltran-Coronel’s fourth trip to the border with immigration agents came after he was involved in a car crash in Kansas that killed his wife and exposed him as a human smuggler.
On 16 other occasions, Beltran was caught in the U.S. illegally and left on his own, court records show.
He served 5 1/2 years in prison and was shipped back to Mexico in 2002. Within three years, he was back, living in Preble County in western Ohio.
For Antonio Galloso, deportation came in 2005. By that time, Columbus police had charged him with domestic violence twice. But Galloso sneaked back to Columbus, where he sexually assaulted a woman.
A Franklin County judge sentenced him to community control–similar to probation. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents got him instead, and federal prosecutors charged him with illegally re-entering the country.
And ICE agents deported Guadalupe Wollum in 2007 after authorities caught her with more than 200 pounds of marijuana in Dayton. It took her a little more than three months to return to Montgomery County, in western Ohio, where federal agents found her again.
All four immigrants eventually were sent to federal prisons for breaking immigration laws. They were sentenced to between four months and six years.
U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, said he plans to try to close the loophole that allows some immigrants to use deportation to avoid prosecution. That occurs when ICE deports an immigrant before local prosecutors can file charges.
“It is very important for these agencies to establish a precedent for communicating and sharing information,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between the judicial system and federal agencies like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement,” Tiberi [U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township] wrote. “I plan to work with the incoming chair of the Immigration Subcommittee to close this loophole and strengthen our borders.”
Aranda, Beltran and Galloso will be sent back home after serving time here. Woolum was deported after being released in January. And after paying to prosecute and imprison them, taxpayers again will foot the bill for their removal. According to an ICE spokeswoman, it costs $1,000 to “remove” someone, but she did not enumerate the expenses. The total cost is more than $6,000 for each deportation, according to ICE budget numbers.
Serious criminal histories
Prosecutors charged more than 100 immigrants this year in federal court in Columbus with returning illegally after being deported.
The number of prosecutions in federal court here has jumped from 16 in 2006 to 112 in 2010.
Federal authorities say they hope that the prospect of federal prison time will deter immigrants from sneaking back into the country.
Today, illegal re-entry cases represent about a third of the caseload for the federal public-defender’s office, according to Gordon G. Hobson, a senior litigator for the federal public-defender’s office.
Not everyone who comes back illegally and is caught a second time is prosecuted.
Federal prosecutors say they’re interested in bigger fish: people with serious criminal convictions in their pasts, those who were deported and then committed a crime after they sneaked back in or those who have been deported repeatedly.
“The general focus is on the bad guys, the ones that are committing crimes while here illegally,” said Vipal J. Patel, district criminal chief for the U.S. attorney’s office.
Nationwide, the number of people prosecuted for coming back illegally after being deported has increased by 175 percent since 2005, according to a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which gathers and analyzes data from public agencies.
Even with the threat of prosecution, many still find re-entry worth the risk.
Javier H. Armengau, a Spanish-speaking Columbus lawyer who represents clients in immigration and criminal court.
“I can’t even count the number of clients that have been deported who came back in to say hello,” Armengau [Javier H. Armengau, a Spanish-speaking Columbus lawyer who represents clients in immigration and criminal court] said. “One the other day brought me a fruit basket. One brought me a potted plant.”
Open and shut cases
To win a criminal re-entry case, federal prosecutors have to prove three facts: the identity of the defendant; that he or she previously was deported; and that that person later came back illegally.
Prosecutors often have a photo, signature and fingerprints taken by ICE or Border Patrol agents to prove the previous deportation.
The evidence that the person sneaked back into the U.S. often is seated at the defendant’s table.
On average, defendants spend 13 months in federal prison before being deported again.
Jorge Vazquez-Gallardo was sent home once in 2007 and again in 2009. In September, ICE agents found him back in the country again. This time, he was in the Franklin County jail, charged with carrying a concealed weapon and drunken driving.
The weapons charge was dismissed in September, and Vazquez was to stand trial for drunken driving on Dec. 16.
When he didn’t show up, a municipal court judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
But Vazquez had a good reason for not being there. He’s serving a year–half the maximum sentence he could have received–in federal prison for illegal re-entry.
Normally, an illegal re-entry case would take about six months to resolve, said Bertha Duran, the attorney representing Vazquez. But his was put on a fast track.
Crime and punishment
Immigrant-rights activists say that some people in federal prison for sneaking back into the U.S. are not dangerous and don’t belong there.
ICE says it focuses on immigrants who are threats to safety and national security.
Studies disagree about whether illegal immigrants are more or less likely to commit crimes in the U.S.
In 2000, native-born men ages 18 to 39 were five times more likely to be imprisoned than immigrants of the same age, according to the Immigration Policy Center, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.
Immigrants, legal or illegal, make up 20 percent of inmates in prisons and jails, according to a 2009 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, also a Washington nonprofit group. In 2009, immigrants made up about 7 percent of the U.S. population, census data show.
Saint and sinner
Somewhere in the hills between Tijuana and San Diego, a 22-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, stepped over the border into the United States this past fall.
In doing so, this man with no criminal history committed a felony.
He’d been deported about two months earlier and was warned not to come back.
But he couldn’t earn a living in Mexico, he said. He wanted to make sure that his two younger brothers still in Guadalajara will have more opportunity than he did.
The man lives with relatives in Columbus. He is among the estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants who were living in Ohio in 2009, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.
The man requested anonymity for fear of criminal prosecution and deportation.
He said that he respects U.S. laws, but that the current immigration system offers few visas for unskilled laborers and is unjust and unworkable.
Eight years after the man sneaked into the country, seven ICE agents came to the apartment he and two other men were sharing.
Neither he nor his roommates had heard of the person the agents sought, but they were detained and later deported when they couldn’t prove legal status.
The man said that his time at home in Mexico was a welcome vacation. He visited with family, especially his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in eight years.
Then he returned to the border to negotiate passage with one of the many coyotes just south of the border.
He used the $3,000 he’d saved while working in construction in Columbus before he was deported.
Another person who started walking across the border with the man and about nine others was lost in the hills. The coyote didn’t stop to look for him, the man said.
He said he saw evidence that coyotes and drug traffickers work together.
The coyotes were paying off traffickers, he said. In exchange, the drug dealers agreed not to kidnap their customers and extort money from their families.
According to the United Nations, about 20 percent of Mexicans who cross the Mexico-U.S. border illegally are caught.