Record ar­rests of smug­glers, il­le­gals defy Democrats Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion surge shows pri­or­i­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN ,

De­wayne Nobles was ar­rested af­ter Bor­der Pa­trol agents found 11 il­le­gal im­mi­grants sit­ting on the at­tic rafters above his bed­room in his step­fa­ther’s house in Texas.

Ma­lik Jack­son, nabbed at a high­way check­point in Cal­i­for­nia, told agents he was re­cruited by a high school buddy over Snapchat and was of­fered $300 to drive Mex­i­can il­le­gal im­mi­grants and $600 to drive Chi­nese.

Luis Mo­rales-Me­len­dez stands ac­cused of re­fus­ing to help as one of the group of il­le­gal im­mi­grants he was lead­ing across the Rio Grande be­gan to strug­gle and even­tu­ally drowned in the river’s swirling wa­ters.

Jaime Chavez-Gue­vara was turned over to U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment by the crew of a con­tainer ship who said they found him stowed away on a run from Panama to Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia. It was the third time he was caught sneak­ing into the U.S., and he is fac­ing a sen­tence of up to 15 years in prison.

They are among the more than 100,000 pros­e­cu­tions for im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated bor­der crimes the Jus­tice Depart­ment has brought in the past 12 months, set­ting an all-time record.

The surge is a de­fi­ance of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, who have pushed the idea that il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der — known in the crim­i­nal code as im­proper en­try, a mis­de­meanor pun­ish­able by up to six months of jail time — should not be a crime

The pros­e­cu­tions still make up a small frac­tion of the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple jump­ing the bor­der: more than 800,000 in fis­cal year 2019.

But an­a­lysts said the in­crease shows the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pri­or­i­ties.

“These num­bers are gen­uinely im­pres­sive,” said Jes­sica Vaughan, pol­icy stud­ies di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies. “They are not just a re­sult of more cases to pros­e­cute — there have al­ways been more than enough cases, too many, to pros­e­cute. The num­bers re­flect the de­ci­sion to make this a real pri­or­ity, not just a to­ken ef­fort.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment brought more than 80,000 il­le­gal en­try cases in fis­cal year 2019, which ended Sept. 30. That shat­tered the record set just a year ago, with 68,470 pros­e­cu­tions. That topped the pre­vi­ous record, un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, of 65,597 cases in 2013.

An­other record was set for prose­cut­ing il­le­gal reen­try, a felony pun­ish­able by up to two years on the first of­fense. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pros­e­cu­tors filed 25,426 cases, top­ping the pre­vi­ous record from the be­gin­ning of the Obama years.

One of those was Chavez-Gue­vara, from El Sal­vador, who was found in 2017 and de­ported from Texas. He was nabbed and de­ported from Phoenix a year later. This time, he said, he re­ceived $6,000 from his girl­friend in Mi­ami and used the cash to hire a smug­gler to help him make the trip back.

He took a bus from El Sal­vador to Panama, where the smug­glers fer­ried him to the Santa Linea, a cargo ship. He and one of the smug­glers climbed up the an­chor chain and sneaked in through the an­chor hatch, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments. The smug­gler then showed Chavez-Gue­vara where he could hide dur­ing the trip to Sa­van­nah.

The crew dis­cov­ered him along the way, and ICE was wait­ing at the port.

“There is zero tol­er­ance for those who break the law to get here, and they don’t get ex­tra points for per­sis­tence or cre­ativ­ity,” said Bobby L. Chris­tine, the U.S. at­tor­ney in south­ern Ge­or­gia who led the pros­e­cu­tion, which net­ted a 60-day sen­tence.

Ge­or­gia is one of the rea­sons for the surge in pros­e­cu­tions.

In 2016, dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Chris­tine’s re­gion brought just four im­mi­gra­tion cases. Over the next two years, pros­e­cu­tions sky­rock­eted 2,600%, he said.

One of those cases in­volved Ed­uardo Gon­za­lez-Frias, who was nabbed for il­le­gal reen­try.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties had charged him with ve­hic­u­lar homi­cide for driv­ing while drunk, strik­ing a guardrail, flip­ping his car into the Au­gusta Canal and leav­ing a pas­sen­ger drowned in his car, but they couldn’t defini­tively prove he was the driver.

Gon­za­lez-Frias skated on the homi­cide charge and was given a 16-month sen­tence for ve­hi­cle in­frac­tions. He pleaded guilty to the il­le­gal reen­try charge, was sen­tenced in May to time served and was or­dered de­ported once an­other lo­cal DUI charge was set­tled.

In ad­di­tion to the il­le­gal im­mi­grants, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­creas­ingly go­ing af­ter those re­spon­si­ble for smug­gling them — the foot guides who lead them into the U.S., the stash houses that hold them near the bor­der and the driv­ers who pick them up and trans­port them deeper into the coun­try.

Pros­e­cu­tors brought 4,297 cases in fis­cal year 2019 — also a record, top­ping the pre­vi­ous high of 4,127 in 2006 and shat­ter­ing num­bers from the Obama years, when pros­e­cu­tions at one point dipped to fewer than 2,800.

“It’s a lit­tle shock­ing to see how few smug­gling pros­e­cu­tions there were un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that is when the [unac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren] cri­sis started, which was clearly a prob­lem with smug­gling,” Ms. Vaughan said. “Had they tried to do more against the smug­glers, in­stead of ig­nor­ing it and then treat­ing it as some kind of be­nign hu­man­i­tar­ian flow, we might not have seen the prob­lem get so out of hand.” As it is, the smug­glers have left a trail of death. Pros­e­cu­tors in Texas brought smug­gling charges in one case in which a driver crashed a Chevro­let Sub­ur­ban, killing six and send­ing nine oth­ers to the hos­pi­tal. In a case out of San Diego in Au­gust, po­lice found three dead peo­ple in the trunk of a car.

More com­mon were cases like that of Nobles, the man who had stashed 11 il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the at­tic of his step­fa­ther’s home.

He said he was be­ing paid $1,200 for the group. He pleaded guilty and is await­ing sen­tenc­ing.

Still await­ing trial is Mr. Mo­rales-Me­len­dez, who, ac­cord­ing to ICE agents, was caught lead­ing a group of 11 il­le­gal im­mi­grants across the Rio Grande and into the U.S.

When agents in­ter­viewed the il­le­gal im­mi­grants, who paid up to $19,000 a per­son to be smug­gled, they learned that one of the group had drowned while cross­ing the river. Mr. Mo­rales-Me­len­dez saw the man strug­gling in the water and heard him yelling for help but let him drown, the wit­nesses told agents.

Mr. Mo­rales-Me­len­dez now stands charged with nine counts of smug­gling in a case in which some­one died — each one pun­ish­able by a po­ten­tial life sen­tence.

The Wash­ing­ton Times con­tacted sev­eral im­mi­grant rights groups about the num­bers, but none of them re­sponded to in­quiries.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Jus­tice Depart­ment has brought more than 100,000 pros­e­cu­tions — a small frac­tion of the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple jump­ing the bor­der — for im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated bor­der crimes, in the past 12 months, set­ting an all-time record.

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