Ties to US spur illegal reentry
Families, jobs keep undocumented offenders returning
Last in a two-part series
A Dominican man whose children have a better life than he could have hoped for.
A federal judge in Easton who noted the attraction of the United States, even for immigrants thrown into prison for continuing to sneak into it.
A Bucks County business owner who is torn between his feelings for an exemplary worker and his belief that immigration laws must be enforced.
Those are a few of the stories behind the prosecutions for immigration offenses, which have leaped nationally and in Pennsylvania under President Donald Trump.
It is a felony for someone who has been deported to return to the United States without permission. That is being aggressively applied by the Trump administration, a wider net that has captured many undocumented immigrants who have jobs, deep roots in the U.S. and minor, old or in some cases nonexistent criminal records, a Morning Call review of more than 200 cases found.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia casts illegal reentry charges as a question of law and order, saying those who breach the country’s borders must be deterred from trying to return.
Critics charge it is both cruel and a waste of taxpayer resources to use the criminal courts to imprison immigrants who will be deported regardless.
Here are accounts of three men recently sentenced in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes the Lehigh
Valley and Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Roberto Tiscareno-Barrajas was “honest, dependable and incredibly hard-working,” an allaround asset to E&J Metal Fabricators in Northampton Township, Bucks County.
Company President Brent Reeb wrote those glowing words last year for a court filing in support of Tiscareno-Barrajas, who was arrested by immigration agents near his home in Perkasie.
“He was just a straight-up decent man and there’s not a lot of them out there,” Reeb told The Morning Call. “He was an intelligent guy, a loyal guy and a great guy.”
But Reeb, 61, said he also understands why Tiscareno-Barrajas was prosecuted for illegally reentering the country from Mexico.
“That’s the system doing what it is supposed to do,” he said. “It is supposed to pick up criminals. I’m not trying to paint him as a criminal, but that’s what he was.”
According to court records, Tiscareno-Barrajas, 43, had three prior deportations, in 2004, 2010 and 2012. He was convicted twice of drunken driving in Georgia in 1999 and had an unresolved 2008 DUI in Doylestown that he had not answered for.
“Terrified that he would be arrested by immigration authorities when he arrived for his court hearing in that case, he did not appear, and the case remained in abeyance for the next decade,” Elizabeth Toplin, assistant chief federal defender, wrote in a sentencing memo. “Mr. Tiscareno-Barrajas stopped drinking after his last arrest, and has not had even a sip of alcohol for over five years.”
Toplin said her client saw the United States as a “land of opportunity” and lived most of his adult life here. TiscarenoBarrajas, who is gay, met his husband more than 15 years ago in Georgia and they married in 2016 — part of the reason he wanted to remain in the U.S., because Mexico is less tolerant of same-sex relationships, Toplin said.
Tiscareno-Barrajas had spent 4½ months in custody when a federal judge sentenced him to time served in October, clearing the path for his deportation. He is now in Mexico while his husband remains in the United States, Phil Swartley, his former landlord, said in July.
“My soft side says give him another chance and my practical side says deport him,” Reeb said. “He snuck in too many times. He broke the law too many times.”
Luis R. Chevalier-Pena has three children in the United States, a son and two daughters who are now in their 20s. One is a dental assistant. Another works as a security guard. The third is in college.
Their successes “leapfrogged” anything Chevalier-Pena could have hoped for in his native Dominican Republic, his assistant federal defender, Mythri Jayaraman, told a federal judge in Easton in June.
“He made a better future for his children possible,” Jayaraman said.
The 48-year-old Reading man was arrested by immigration agents last year after being twice cited for traffic violations, according to court records. Chevalier-Pena also has a 2004 conviction in New Jersey for conspiracy to distribute heroin, for which he served more than two years in federal prison before being deported.
In sentencing Chevalier-Pena for illegal reentry, U.S. District Judge Edward Smith said he needed to send a message, even as he praised Chevalier-Pena’s work ethic and noted the age of his prior conviction.
“All the evidence that’s been submitted suggests you’ve been a hard-working individual your entire life,” Smith said. “Everyone who was interviewed by the probation office had nothing but good things to say about you.”
Still, Smith ordered ChevalierPena to spend 18 months in prison before he is sent back to the Dominican Republic.
“Others have to know that if they come into this country illegally and they are caught, they are going to be prosecuted. They are going to be convicted. They are going to be punished,” Smith said.
In July, Smith ordered 57-yearold Miguel Carrillo-Zamarripa of Reading to spend six months in prison, a time-served sentence that paved the way for his deportation to Mexico.
Carrillo-Zamarripa came to the United States in 1977 as a teenager and was granted lawful permanent residency status a decade later, according to court records. He was first deported after being caught in 1990 smuggling marijuana across the Texas border, a crime for which he received a suspended prison sentence. It was one of three prior removals from the U.S.
“That means that four separate times — at least — he entered the country illegally,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher, who recently was nominated by Trump to be a U.S. District Court judge.
Smith highlighted that Carrillo-Zamarripa, who was arrested at his home by immigration agents, has been crime-free for nearly three decades. He also noted Carrillo-Zamarripa’s ties to the United States: He owns property here and most of his family is in America, including his two children and eight grandchildren.
Smith said he was concerned that any sentence he handed down would fail to dissuade Carrillo-Zamarripa from coming back.
“There’s such an allure here for you,” Smith said.
To discourage Carrillo-Zamarripa, Smith adopted a tactic he also used with Chevalier-Pena.
Onto both men’s sentences, Smith tacked three years of federal probation. Outside the country, the extra requirement is meaningless. But if they were caught returning, they’d face additional time in prison.