Man deported for fifth time; similar cases on rise
By Jason Cato
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Javier Ixtlapale-Teozo was an old pro at being detained by law enforcement officers when Pittsburgh police stopped him in June.
He told the officers his name was Gonsalo Hernandes-Rojas, that he was born May 29, 1978, in Acapulco, Mexico, and that he was in the United States illegally. Everything but the name turned out to be true.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti this week sentenced Ixtlapale-Teozo, 30, to time served and ordered that he be removed from the United States — for the fifth time.
Isaias Hernandez-Romero, 32, was sentenced to time served and ordered deported to Mexico after a hearing this week before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster in Pittsburgh. Hernandez-Romero was captured and removed from the United States four times between March 28 and May 9. He returned May 10 and was captured by police in Butler on June 29, federal authorities said.
In Western Pennsylvania, federal prosecutions of repeat illegal-entry defendants rose from just two in 2000 to 170 over the past four years, including 34 so far in 2008, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday.
When an alien is deported, federal law makes it a felony — punishable by up to 20 years in prison — for him or her to re-enter without permission.
“They need to get more serious sentences than a few months in prison and time served,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
In some cases, judges do impose harsher sentences.
In April, U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin in Erie sentenced a Mexican immigrant to 7 1/2 years in prison for illegal re-entry.
Another repeat offender was sentenced in June to six years in prison “to promote respect for the law and as a deterrent,” said a federal judge in Tennessee.
“These prosecutions send a strong message that there is a significant price to pay for those who show no regard for our nation's laws or our borders,” said Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “This tool is enabling us to take dangerous criminal aliens off the street and out of our communities.”
Federal immigration prosecutions in March reached an all-time high, according to national figures gathered by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Prosecutors filed 9,350 cases that month, nearly 73 percent more than in March 2007 and 193 percent higher than five years ago. Those 9,350 cases included 1,331 for re-entry of illegal aliens.
“We aggressively go after everyone who is here illegally,” Alvarez-Montgomery said. “Having said that, ICE prioritizes our resources to focus on those who pose a threat to national security and to our communities at large.
“We want to ensure we get the worst of the worst off the streets of our communities.”
More often than not, however, immigration officials are catching ordinary illegal immigrants instead of hardened criminals or terrorists, said Peter Zamora, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“We are talking about people who are not threats to the American way of life,” Zamora said. “There's never been a prosecution or arrest of someone who has crossed our southern border to commit a terrorist act.”
Ixtlapale-Teozo was first removed from the country in July 2003 by an immigration judge in El Centro, Calif. He has been apprehended at least six times by immigration officers, court records state.
Ixtlapale-Teozo has been caught in three other border towns — San Luis, Ariz., in November 2003; Presidio, Texas, in March 2004; and Douglas, Ariz., in May 2004 — and removed from the country. He told authorities in Pittsburgh that he last crossed into the United States by foot from Agua Prieta, Mexico. He admitted he had not obtained permission from the U.S. attorney general or Homeland Security to come back a fifth time.
The criminal complaint filed against Ixtlapale-Teozo does not indicate whether he has other criminal arrests here or in Mexico.
Jeff Passel, a senior demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center, said the recent increase in re-entry prosecutions represents a shift in focus, not an increase in illegal immigration.
“What's going on is a change in strategy. There's not a change in demography driving it,” Passel said.
That so many deportees are found in the United States again raises an “open question about effectiveness,” Passel said. “They want to create some doubt in (defendants') minds about coming again, and for them to spread the word to friends and neighbors that they might get arrested if they come to the United States illegally.
“Whether that's going to work to some large degree, we don't know yet.”
Jason Cato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7840.