Nebraska Observer Weblog

Nebraska’s Illegal Immigration News

012408 U.S. finding, deporting more fugitive immigrants

Jose Aguilar Jr. continued classes this week at the all-male Omaha high school known for alumni who include judges, educators and politicians.

U.S.-born brothers Eduardo Aguilar, 10, and Jose Aguilar Jr. remained behind in the United States after their parents were deported to Mexico last month. Though Eduardo is now in California, to be closer to his parents, Creighton Prep junior Jose, 16, says, “This is where I belong.”

Little brother Eduardo had been in a private boys school, too, until he left town last week to stay with relatives.

It was at Omaha Creighton Prep and Jesuit Middle School that the two brothers, ages 16 and 10, found support as they learned to navigate life without their mom and dad.

Their parents, Jose and Loreny Aguilar, were deported last month, part of the rising number of people picked up by special units charged with clearing the country of foreigners who have defied a judge’s order to leave.

During the fiscal year 2007, fugitive operations units in a five-state area that includes Nebraska and Iowa arrested 914 illegal immigrants, up from 660 the year before.

Of the 914, 159 had criminal convictions. Eight hundred had orders of deportation. The rest, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were illegal immigrants who weren’t under court order to leave, but who happened to be where the agents nabbed original targets.

Nationally, arrests doubled to about 30,500 from 2006 to 2007.

Also in 2007, the fugitive population declined for the first time since the government began tracking that statistic in 2003, dropping to fewer than 595,000. That was down from about 633,000 the previous year.

Fugitives make up a small portion of the overall number of illegal immigrants in the United States, estimated at 12 million.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement defines fugitives as illegal immigrants who have gone through a legal process but have not complied with a judge’s order to leave.

The number of fugitive operations teams has quadrupled, from 18 in 2005 to 75 this year.

Those who are frustrated with illegal immigration laud the stepped-up enforcement. Scott Baniecke, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement regional official, said the federal government has targeted the fugitive population because “it offends society’s basic sense of fairness” when one pursues due process, then ignores the official decision.

But civil rights advocates and Latino leaders have criticized methods that include sweeping up undocumented workers who have no formal orders of deportation and cornering people away from work sites, in places once considered relatively safe.

Many were caught in private residences. Some were arrested in front of their children. One illegal immigrant’s relatives said he was nabbed outside an Omaha medical center following a dialysis treatment.

Since a fugitive operations unit was formed locally in 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities have shared few details on how it operates.

The Aguilar case offers a look at the process.

According to the family and other people close to their case, federal agents offered Jose Aguilar a trade: He would get more time in the United States if he would help build a criminal case against his employer. The time was cut short, though, when the probe went awry.

Tim Counts, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, declined to discuss investigative activity.

He confirmed the Nov. 14 arrests of Jose and Loreny Aguilar at their respective workplaces.

For much of their time in the United States, the couple had work permits granted by the government while legal cases were pending. The agents on Nov. 14 were following up on 2002 and 2004 immigration appeals court decisions that denied residency.

Counts also confirmed that the Aguilars’ chance to stay longer was forfeited “as a result of their own actions.” He would not be more specific.

According to Jose Aguilar, a federal agent allegedly offered the possibility of legal residency status for him and his wife in exchange for cooperation in an investigation against the company where he had worked for six years.

“I felt desperate,” Aguilar said in a phone interview from Mexico. “They had just told me I was going to be deported immediately. We had so much going for us there. Our sons . . . .”

The Aguilars, who say they had been in the United States nearly two decades, were released with instructions to report to the immigration office monthly for the next six months.

Their attorney was to continue to work on their case.

Days later, Aguilar said, he met two federal agents in a Burger King parking lot.

Aguilar said he stepped into the agents’ vehicle and followed their instructions: He place a wired phone call to Omaha Steel Castings Co. and ask for permission to return with fake Puerto Rican work documents.

Can’t oblige, the human resource director told him.

Aguilar said the lead immigration agent seemed satisfied with his effort.

When the Aguilars showed up Dec. 5 for what they thought was their first routine check-in, they were detained.

Loreny Aguilar said she heard an angry agent tell her husband, “What happened with the agreement we had? Because of you, we lost a lot of people. . . . This is your punishment.”

The next time Loreny Aguilar saw her children was on a video screen in the Douglas County Correctional Center.

Her older son told her she was going to be deported in the morning and that she must decide her boys’ custody, or they would be made wards of the state.

“I was going crazy,” Loreny Aguilar recalled from Mexico. “My hands went numb. I thought I was losing my sons.”

The following day, Jose and Loreny Aguilar were put on a plane with dozens of other illegal immigrants and taken to a U.S.-Mexican border station.

Phil Teggart, general manager at Omaha Steel Castings, knew of Jose Aguilar’s Nov. 14 arrest but said he was unaware of any broader investigation.

Teggart described Aguilar as a “very good employee.” He acknowledged Aguilar’s call about returning under a false name, but said it would be crazy to think his company would agree.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Teggart. “We’ve been in business 102 years . . .”

Teggart said that more than 30 percent of the company’s employees are Hispanic and that Omaha Steel has a fine working relationship with immigration officials.

Today, the Aguilars live with Loreny’s relatives in Tlalchapa, Guerrero. Loreny had left there in 1988 to seek a better life in California. There, she met and married Jose Aguilar, who also had crossed illegally.

After work dried up, they moved their two U.S.-born sons to Omaha in 2001.

They liked the city’s tranquility and the schools.

Jose Jr. was recruited as the first Latino at the mostly black Jesuit Middle School. The Rev. Jim Michalski, president, said Jose Jr. was an honors student who repeatedly won awards for behavior and helping others.

Eduardo was the top student academically in the fourth grade, Michalski said.

Jesuit Middle School helps pay for Jose Jr.’s tuition.

When Prep learned of the Aguilars’ pending deportation, school officials contacted federal authorities. Students sent letters of appeal. Jim Swanson, a school counselor, invested hours talking to the family and ICE. He accompanied the boys to the jail.

Swanson and Michalski say it is not right to disrupt the boys’ lives by deporting working parents who had no criminal record and were buying a house.

“This is a perfect example,” Swanson said, “where amnesty might be the right thing.”

Counts, however, noted that the Aguilars had access to years of due process in the courts.

“Parenthood does not make you immune from having to comply with the nation’s laws,” he said, “and the responsibility for any negative consequences lies squarely with the violator.”

Eduardo is living with an aunt in Los Angeles to be closer to his parents. Though he’s never been to Mexico, he wants to move there.

“I have to, because I don’t want my mom to cry,” he said.

Jose Jr., a Creighton Prep junior, plans to remain in Omaha with other relatives. He is eyeing a U.S. military or medical career.

He plans to work so he can send money to his folks and pay for the car they left behind.

“This is where I belong,” said the teen.

Meanwhile, the boys’ parents alternate between anger and sadness. They miss their sons, but believe their opportunities would be limited in Mexico.

The father said he is left with one consolation: No other immigrant families faced separation because of his actions.

“I don’t want that on my conscience,” Jose Aguilar said.

One Response to “012408 U.S. finding, deporting more fugitive immigrants”

  1. Jose Aguilar Jr. said

    It has now been almost a year since the devastating news of my parents deportation rached my ears. The last eight months have been the hardest and most painful times of my life. I feel very honored that a lot of people took time out of their busy schedule in order to help me and support me in the times that I was down the most. I just want to thank everyone for their support. If there is anyone going through the same pain that I have and continue to go through and need someone to talk to feel free to contact me.

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