Monday, September 10, 2007

Texan is jailed as illegal immigrant


Posted on a LULAC Listserv

Posted on Thu, Aug. 30, 2007

Texan is jailed as illegal immigrant


By PATRICK McGEE
Star-Telegram staff writer

A native Texan spent the night in the Arlington Jail, missed her children's first day of school and feared being deported after authorities mistook her for an illegal immigrant.

Alicia Rodriguez, an accountant and mother of three, has the same name and date of birth as a woman deported to Mexico three times.

"I was told I was waiting for an [immigration] officer or Border Patrol officer to interview me and then move me to another location. It was very scary," the Mansfield woman said.

Arlington and federal immigration officials say they made a mistake and apologized.

"This is very unusual," Arlington police spokeswoman Christy Gilfour said "We're not aware of this having happened before. We do realize that this is unfortunate, and we do regret that we made an error."

Gilfour said police overlooked fingerprints that would have shown Rodriguez was not the illegal immigrant.

Rodriguez said she does not plan to sue, but apologies do not make up for what she was put through.

"I think it's ridiculous. I think it was obvious that I wasn't an illegal immigrant," she said.

Rodriguez's case demonstrates the need for a balanced approach between enforcement and immigration reform, said Marisol Perez, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "We want to uphold the laws of the country, but we want to balance that with individual rights," she said.

Earlier this year, authorities wrongly deported U.S. citizen Pedro Guzman, a developmentally disabled man from California. It took his family three months to find him.

Law enforcement experts say similar situations may happen again as the government creates more databases of names to fight illegal immigration, terrorism and other crimes.

"Part of the dynamic is when you identify the right person, they also say they didn't do it," said Jack McDevitt, associate criminal justice dean at Northeastern University in Boston. "So police are used to running into people who say, 'This isn't me, I didn't do it.'"

Identified as illegal

Arlington police pulled Rodriguez over and arrested her Sunday night after running her license-plate number.

She had warrants from Dalworthington Gardens for having no insurance during a stop in that city and failure to appear in court for the insurance charge.

Rodriguez said the charges are valid, and she was willing to pay a fine and bail to get out of jail.

But when she got to the jail, the Arlington police computer told officers that they had a woman who was in the country illegally.

Gilfour said Rodriguez's name and date of birth matched. The height was off by an inch. The weight was off by 25 pounds, but the information was last updated in 1999.

Police arranged for Rodriguez to have a telephone interview with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Rodriguez said the ICE officer was "very hostile" to her, refusing to believe her when she said she was born in Dallas.

Rodriguez said the person on the other end of line sternly told her that she was speaking to a federal agent and had to answer truthfully or risk committing perjury.

"At the time, I thought someone with my name had committed some horrible crime," Rodriguez said.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the illegal immigrant Alicia Rodriguez had at least three claims of false citizenship on her record. That record may have led officials to doubt the Alicia Rodriguez they had in custody when she said she was born in Dallas.

In jail overnight

Rodriguez's sister, Deborah Evans, came to the Arlington Jail with cash to pay any fines or bail only to learn that her sister was being held as an illegal immigrant.

"I said, 'What do you mean? She's my sister. We were born here in Texas, in Dallas,'" Evans said. "I was shocked they were telling me this."

Rodriguez spent the night in jail sleeping on a mat on the floor with a cellmate. Another sister stayed with her three children, and her ex-husband took them to school the next day.

On Monday, she was transferred to Dalworthington Gardens Jail, where she had a panic attack when authorities told her immigration officials would come pick her up -- eventually.

"They told me it could take up to two days to move me to the next location which to me just meant it was going to be endless," Rodriguez said. She said police gave her oxygen to calm her hyperventilating.

Evans went to the Dalworthington Gardens Jail, showed officials her sister's birth certificate and tried again to convince officials that her sister was a U.S. citizen.

"I was frightened that she was going to be deported right then" to Mexico, Evans said. "We don't speak Spanish. What was she going to do, and how was I going to get there?"

After trying unsuccessfully to get her sister released, Evans said she left for an appointment.

Dalworthington Gardens Sgt. David Henderson said an officer there discovered Rodriguez had a driver's license and Social Security number. Dalworthington Gardens officials eventually started working for her release, Rodriguez said.

Monday.

She walked about 3 miles to get her impounded car before her sister could pick her up. Rodriguez said the whole experience was a nightmare.

"I feel like it's a political byproduct of the whole illegal immigration thing," she said, "not that illegal immigrants shouldn't be dealt with, but I'm a citizen."

1 comment:

Jackie said...

That´s how you know they're taking their paranoia too far, now they're triyng to deport anyone who looks like a latin.
this experience could teach authorities to be a little bit more careful, I know they don't really care about making a mexican miss her sons first day at school and making her go through this experience; but maybe they care now that it happened to one of their own.
Also now this woman can tell all her friends what it feels like for an immigrant to be taken away an be treated like a criminal and maybe they can get a little bit more sensitive about this. In the end this can be a positive thing (for immigrants at least).