U.S. District Court Judge Sandy Mattice sentenced eight illegal aliens to two years of supervised probation Wednesday morning. The eight were earlier found guilty of illegally entering the United States and of knowingly committing perjury by signing an I-9 form and stating that they were eligible to work in this country.
Each had also purchased false and fraudulent documents such as Social Security cards and green cards which they used to gain employment.
The light sentences and lack of a deportation order came about due to each of the defendants having earlier been issued a U visa by the Department of Homeland Security, the judge said.
Judge Mattice described this type of visa “as for lack of a better word, a reward,” for assisting a U.S. agency prosecute another federal case - in this instance against Durrett Cheese Sales, Inc. of Manchester, Tn. Their assistance, which was challenged by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Humble as “questionable at least,” was due to their part in a human trafficking case against Durrett Cheese. The case proved to be one that was not prosecutable.
According to court documents, the defendants, Luciana Moreno-Lopez, Maria Ramirez-Mendoza, Flora Rivera-Pablo, Teresa Ayala-Rosales, Cirilo Castillo-Amaro, Meremedios Cervantes-Cano, Sarai Contreras-Martinez and Mercedes Eugenio-Gomez were arrested by the Coffee County Sheriff for criminal trespass on Oct. 22, 2007. They were arrested after their employer was unable to pay them and they refused to leave company property until they were paid.
Upon their arrest the sheriff determined that they were most likely illegal aliens and then notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
ICE contacted the United States Attorney’s Office for help in investigating possible human trafficking and other possible violations of federal law. Several of the defendants were interviewed by ICE agents and a representative of the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Section of the Civil Rights Division. Also participating in the interviews was a representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) . The SPLC had made the allegations that the defendants were victims of human trafficking.
The court documents state: “Based on the defendants’ statements and other investigation, it was obvious that there was no prosecutable human trafficking case.” This was pointed out by prosecutor Humble during sentencing when attorney Clay Whittaker, defense counsel for Ms. Moreno-Lopez, requested probationary sentencing for his client by saying that she had provided and continued to provide the government with assistance.
Mr. Humble stated, “The defendants have not provided any reasonable assistance to the government; in fact, they basically refused to implicate anyone (in the company’s management hierarchy).”
Each of the defendants received a sentence of two years supervised probation on each of three counts, to be served concurrently. A special fine of $300 was waived by Judge Mattice in each case based on the defendants’ inability to pay.
In a previous case involving this matter, former Durrett Cheese Sales, Inc. employee, Shanna Ramirez, was convicted of conspiracy to commit social security fraud (count 1); aiding and abetting social security fraud (count 2); and false declarations before the grand jury (counts 4 and 5). She was sentenced on Dec. 23, 2009 by Judge Mattice to 15 months of incarceration. In another related case, Montano-Perez was sentenced on March 1 to two years probation.
The SPLC had filed a claim on the defendants’ behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) while the defendants had applied for the U visas from the Department of Homeland Security.
The eligibility requirements for a U visa or U non-immigrant status are, according to U.S. State Department directives, strict. This status is, in part, a recognition by Congress that a category of non-citizens is so vulnerable that it deserves protection in the form of legal status and a path to citizenship. A U visa holder is entitled to four years of non-immigrant legal status in the U.S. The holder of such a status may apply for permanent status three years after being granted a U visa.
U visas are issued to illegal aliens when they have been judged to have been substantially abused and are helpful or willing to help designated agencies, including law enforcement agencies, in the detection, investigation or prosecution of crimes.
According to U.S. Code, the purpose of the underlying statute is not to create a blanket amnesty or to legalize everyone who claims victim status. The Act’s Congressional purpose is demonstrated in three aspects of the enabling legislation and its history: (1) the U visa as a tool for law enforcement; (2) the U visa as humanitarian relief for those who are helpful to law enforcement; and, (3) the U visa as protection for workers who suffer crimes in the workplace.
In their original claims to the EEOC, the defendants, under penalty of perjury, falsely denied committing the crimes for which they had been arrested. According to a brief filed by the U.S. Attorney, they had, in fact, committed these and many other crimes before applying for the visas. The EEOC, based upon their claims, designated each of the defendants a “victim” and informed DHS that their presence was necessary to enable them (EEOC) to conduct an investigation.
The EEOC then closed its investigation, but did not notify DHS that the defendants’ presence in this country was no longer necessary. When it was not notified by EEOC, DHS moved ahead and granted the U visa status to all eight defendants.
It is the U.S. Attorney’s Office view that the defendants were not victims of any qualifying crimes or that they have not suffered any substantial abuse – mental of physical because of qualifying criminal activity The U.S. Attorney believes that “the defendants have been able to manipulate the system to achieve legal status, despite their illegal entry and the commission of felony crimes.”
(You can email Dennis Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is available on Twitter as DennisENorwood.)