Ten undocumented immigrants who had been arrested during several workplace raids in the Triangle last November appeared in federal court in New Bern today, and were sentenced to additional jail time.
Employees of Durham-based J&A Framers—Rafael Garcia-Tiscareno, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, Victorino Gutierrez-Licona, Lucio Huerta-Ponce, Luis Humberto Huerta-Ponce, Luis Raul Huerta-Ponce, Juan Manuel Martinze Rodriguez, Jorge Alberto Ruiz-Ponce, Flavio Martinez-Andres and Olegario Ortega-Solis—pleaded guilty of entering the United States illegally. They have been in jail since their arrests four months ago.
Eight of the men face up to an additional two months of jail time. They then will appear in immigration court in Charlotte. However, Gutierrez-Licona was sentenced to an extra month in jail because he had a previous DWI charge. Martinez-Andres was sentenced to an additional eight months because he had been deported before and returned to the U.S.
Dani Bennett, public information officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said criminal sentences take precedence over deportations. “Individuals who have been convicted of crimes in this country must first pay their debt to society, and if they are sentenced by a judge to criminal jail time, they will serve that sentence,” she said.
According to federal sentencing guidelines, the maximum sentence is two years, but they recommend a sentence of up to six months for illegally entering the U.S.
Amanda Mason, who is representing the immigrants, argued that her clients had been in jail long enough. However, Judge Chief District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan, who presided over the hearing, rejected that argument and strongly cautioned the men not to return to the states again adding that the men should take their families back with them to Mexico.
After hearing the workers describe the circumstances that compelled them to cross the border to find work, Flanagan said that while their reasons were sad,they had built an illegal life for themselves and that they needed to learn their lesson.
Almost four months ago, 18 workers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcements officers in Cary, Chapel Hill and Apex, as part of an ongoing investigation into J&A Framers & Carpentry. Two brothers, Jose Alfredo Lopez Ponce and Juan Antonio Lopez Ponce, operated the business. They were indicted Dec. 15 on charges including smuggling, harboring and recruiting immigrants to work. That case will go to trial next month.
In January, eight of the employees pled guilty to misdemeanor immigration-related charges of illegally entering the U.S.: Jorge Juerta Pone, Yair Cruz Garcia, Aldo Temix, German Rodriguez Martinez, Gabriel Miramontes Rosales, Jorge Escamilla Hernandez, Humberto Farfan Ramon, and Edgar Martinez Rodriguez
The eight men served 30 days in jail and were released on immigration bonds.
Marty Rosenbluth, executive director of the N.C. Immigrant Rights Project, said that the sentencing set a precedent as the immigrants were prosecuted criminally. “The Obama administration claims it is targeting convicted criminals, but mostly they are catching individuals suspected of minor misdemeanors,” he said.
Rosenbluth questions whether or not the Ponce employers “who created this mess” will be sentenced as harshly as their employees. “Again, the claim is that ICE is targeting employers and not the employees, but somehow they are missing the mark as evidenced today.”