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UPDATE: Federal Grand Jury Indicts 24-Year Ohio Resident & Father of Two U.S. Citizens for Trying to Reunite with His Family

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US Attorney, David J. Hickton, Uses Limited Dept. Resources to Prosecute Non-Criminal Immigrant Father, Who’s Been Model Citizen for 20 Years 

Part of the Obama Administration’s “get tough” strategy on immigration has been to throw the book at ordinary undocumented immigrants and then claim credit for prioritizing the deportation of “criminal aliens.”  Case in point: Jose Alfredo Ramos Gallegos.

Currently, Alfredo is being held in detention at the Erie Prison in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he has been detained for over a month, and despite limited department resources, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton today announced plans to formally prosecute him for illegal re-entry, costing taxpayers in the tens of thousands.  A Federal Grand Jury returned an indictment against Alfredo, and he’s set to make his first court appearance next Thursday, March 20th.

Since there is no statute of limitations on immigration “crimes,” the government is still planning to charge Ramos with the re-entry offense despite the fact that it occurred 15 years ago and he has been a model resident ever since.

Alfredo was referred to the Border Patrol after Mentor, OH Police stopped a car he was riding in on February 8, 2014.  Even though Alfredo was only a passenger in the car, he was questioned about his immigration status and both he and the driver were taken away in handcuffs in front of his daughter.  Alfredo has lived in the U.S. for 24 years, since he was 16.  He was deported once, 15 years ago, but his U.S. Citizen wife, who was nine months pregnant with their first child, urged him to return.  Since then Alfredo has lived peacefully in the U.S., taking care of his family, with no arrests or other problems.  As this video of his youngest daughter Diona, a U.S. citizen, shows, Alfredo’s prosecution and deportation would be devastating for his family and loved ones.

Today, a broader sign of questionable use of taxpayer money by the Department of Justice, immigration accounts for 52 percent of all federal prosecutions while drug offenses, the next-largest category, account for just 12 percent. Re-entry after deportation—a felony—is the number one offense prosecuted by the federal government. 

Illegal re-entry cases are up 76% under the Obama Administration – amounting to an assembly line to turn undocumented immigrants into convicted felons. An immigrant without a prior criminal record, who has just returned to the country to care for his family, is faced with a terrible choice: either he can plead guilty and serve a light sentence (0-6 months) but become a “criminal alien”, a target for future deportation, and likely ineligible for future legal immigration status; or he can try to fight the case, which involves remaining in jail for several months while waiting for a trial, and risking a guilty verdict anyway.

In addition to the Justice Department’s disregard for discretion in Alfredo’s case, the circumstances around Alfredo’s detention by local police in Mentor, OH remain highly suspect.  He was a passenger in a van that was pulled over, ostensibly for running a yellow light.  But as a passenger, Ramos had nothing at all to do with the decision to go or stop at a traffic light.  And, two other cars cleared the intersection after the van he was riding in was stopped by police, but the other cars were let go.

According to Veronica Dahlberg, Executive Director of HOLA Ohio:

What is happening to Alfredo—a long-established and upstanding member of our community, who I know well–is beyond my comprehension.  And shamefully, this is only one of many cases in our small town in Northeast Ohio.   With increasing frequency, hard-working immigrant fathers and mothers in Painesville, Ohio, who pose no danger to society, are being charged with federal crimes that carry stiff prison sentences.  It is painful for me to see so many farm workers and factory workers handcuffed, shackled and dressed in prison-issue orange jumpsuits because they came to America to work and provide a better life for their families.  With my 20 years working with the immigrant community, I have never seen anything like this.   Even victims of human and labor trafficking are being prosecuted while the perpetrators go free.  We are left to pick up the pieces of the shattered families, often women and children who are left behind and plunged into utter poverty, when husbands and fathers are put in federal prison and deported.  They are the devastating casualties of our federal government’s zeal to crack down on immigrants.  It has to stop.

Alfredo’s lawyer and the Mentor community have requested that the U.S. attorney’s office in Erie exercise discretion in Alfredo’s case.