Background: Our Local Law Enforcement: Helping Violent Criminals Flee Prosecution
In the last year and a half in Sonoma County we’ve seen an increase in dangerous new police immigration practices. In addition to a revival of police participation in immigration raids, we're seeing a new police practice of deporting undocumented suspects immediately after arrest and before any element of justice is applied. As such, our police are turning on the victims and literally facilitating the violent criminals’ flights across the border, assuring these criminals avoid all prosecution and accountability for their violence.
We focus here on this latter practice because its effects are hidden and so devastating to victims of violence against women and children, as well as to the community as a whole.
The following is some background on this issue of instant deportations, and some thoughts on how you can help. The two accompanying stories of Andrea and Alicia illustrate both the dangers of this new practice and the continued disregard our police have for the victims in general.
We would be very interested to know if police in your community are carrying out this same policy of instant deportation of violent suspects, and what, if anything, your community is doing to get the practice stopped. Write us here,
or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, please pass this on to others.
|Background: Our Local Law Enforcement,
* Helping Violent Criminals Flee Prosecution,
* Denying Victims Protection and Justice
Once caught, it's any criminal's dream to be instantly whisked across the border, escape prosecution, and be out of the reach of U.S. law. In a disturbing new trend here in Sonoma County our local law enforcement are making these dreams come true for some very violent criminals. The consequences are devastating for both the immediate victims, and for the community as a whole.
As the accompanying stories of Andrea and Alicia reveal, within days of arrest for rape or domestic violence, many undocumented suspects in our county are being quickly turned over to immigration authorities and taken across the border before any element of justice can apply; before arraignment, before prosecution, before trial, or punishment. Sometimes even before the investigation is complete.
These criminals must be beside themselves with joyous disbelief; one day arrested for violent and serious crimes, and the next day having their bon voyage out of the country arranged for them by the very officials who should be holding them to account. These perpetrators are, in fact, emboldened by the mockery of it all.
The victims, too, are beside themselves with disbelief. They've called police for help, and police have quickly turned on them to help the perpetrators slip the rap. They now have no one to call on as the perpetrators continue their criminality through, or against, mutual family and friends in the home country. Or, as happens just as often, when these perpetrators easily return to the U.S. and come looking for revenge here.
|One out of four people in Sonoma County is Latino. When a large segment of the community is either afraid of police or disgusted with police, while at the same time a violent criminal element is laughing at police, the effective rule of law in that community is all but suspended.
Communities, too, cannot be safe, can’t heal, and can’t thrive without the public truth finding and accountability that are the essential remedies of justice.
The dangers to all are seen in Andrea’s story. The perpetrator was immediately deported in late Fall of 2006 after an arrest in Petaluma for domestic violence against one victim. No justice was applied. He quickly returned to the U.S. and Petaluma, where he was arrested again in the early Spring of 2007, this time for multiple rapes of Andrea’s 11-year-old daughter. And again, police had him immediately deported before the investigation was even completed.
Andrea and her family are left in fear and outrage, and despair that justice can ever be served. Everyone is at risk that police have once again set this violent man on the loose.
Accessories After the Fact
If you or I did the same thing, if we helped a suspected felon flee the country to avoid prosecution, we would be guilty of being an accessory after the fact, a criminal charge which can be every bit as serious as the crime itself. And if a suspect or defendant himself flees across the border on his own steam, he's deemed a fugitive from justice!
Until about a year and a half ago, we had never before seen local law enforcement serving as the perpetrators' fugitive travel agents. Until then, the practice was always that first, justice must be served.
Criminal suspects, irrespective of immigration status, would first have to answer for their crimes in a local court of law. And if found guilty, they would have to serve out their sentence. Only then, upon completion of sentence, would the possibility of deportation be considered, and then usually only in the case of felony crimes. After completing sentence for a misdemeanor, an undocumented person was, in most cases, simply integrated back into the community.
Some may argue that the new trend of instant deportation perhaps has its merits and justification. After all, law enforcement officials have wide discretion as to which laws they treat seriously, and which they ignore. But there’s no stretch of logic that can rank run-of-the-mill illegal entry into the U.S. (usually a misdemeanor) as a more serious crime which should take precedence over crimes of violence against a person.
Furthermore, placing an improper priority on immigration violations makes it virtually impossible to deal with the violent crime later. The suspect, after all, is now out of reach. If, on the other hand, you deal with the violent crime first, you can always deal with the immigration issue later.
The real reasons that Sonoma County officials are adopting this instant deportation approach are obvious. By quickly slipping perpetrators out of justice' reach, the county courts, the jail, and law enforcement save huge monies and resources ~ in the short run. And in the cases of violence against women and children, the instant deportation of suspects serves as one more way among the many that officials have devised to avoid dealing seriously with these crimes.
"The police here are losing all credibility in the community,” says father of 11-year-old rape victim.
The consequences of slipping these criminals out of justice' reach are predictable. The officials’ mockery of their own justice system emboldens the criminals as well it devastates the victims. "If I'd known this would happen," Andrea told us, "I never would have gone to the police." Sadly, we are increasingly hearing from women who will not go to police because of these police immigration practices.
The community as a whole, both the Latino community and the entire community, sustain equally pernicious damage. With this trend to instant deportation combined with law enforcement's increasing participation in immigration raids, says Andrea's husband, "The police here are losing all credibility with the community."
There is a reason that over 30 major cities in the U.S. and two states have official policy advising their police not to participate in enforcement of federal immigration violations, even when these cities are being pressured to do so by the Department of Justice and Homeland Security. And their police departments want it that way. Very simply, intelligent police understand that effective police work is crippled when police don't have the general support and cooperation of the community.
How You Can Help
There is a lot you can do to help on this particular issue, there is a very good chance we can set the situation right. The instant deportation of suspects is a recent police trend in our county. And police participation in immigration raids has only recently been revived. During the 1990's, many of our city councils and police departments in Sonoma County had policies against police participation in immigration enforcement, and for all the right reasons. So it shouldn’t be so difficult to convince our officials to return to the higher path.
So please refer people to these stories and text on our website at www.justicewomen.com or www.ayudaparamujeres.com
See Andrea's story which follows.
About a year ago, Andrea, her husband, and their three daughters, were just beginning to relax into the enjoyment of their very own American success story. The energetic and business minded couple had begun their lives together in a hardscrabble southern Mexican border town. In less than a decade, they had worked their way into a lovely, spacious home in the heart of Petaluma. Their three outgoing daughters, the youngest now 11, were the picture of promise to come. But today, Andrea says, she struggles to find light in the darkness.
Last April, Andrea's 11-year-old daughter, Teri, came to her in an ominous mood. "Mami," she said, "Abel has been molesting me." Andrea clutched her chest. "Mami, Mami," said Teri, "Please don't die."
Abel is a male in-law of the family; a man who had been trusted and treated as one of the family's own. According to Andrea, Teri told her that the molestation had been going on for two years since she was 9-years old. Teri told her mother, 'Abel told me that if I told you, you would die.' For two years, the young girl had been silenced by that thought. Until one day Teri blurted out to Abel, "I'm going to call the police on you!" Abel reacted brutishly, escalating into physical violence. That's when Teri finally went to her mother and told.
"If I ask you a question and you don't understand me, don't answer."
Andrea went immediately to the Petaluma Police station. She speaks little English. According to Andrea, the officer said to her, "If I ask you a question and you don't understand me, don't answer. If I ask you a question and you do understand me, answer me." Even hours into the evening, long after police understood this was a case of multiple rapes of a child under 14-years-old, police never provided Andrea with an interpreter.
Even so, by the time Andrea and her husband left the police station that evening, police had already arrested Abel. Such a quick arrest, the couple thought, had to be a good sign police were going to treat this seriously. But to anyone familiar with standard protocol in such investigations, the rapid arrest was one more very bad sign that things were not going well at all. It takes time to do a proper sexual assault investigation; time to do an in-depth interview with the victim, time to carry out pretext calls on an unwary suspect, time to gather evidence sufficient to make the charges stick.
A few days later, the whole family made the trip to Redwood Children's Center for the standard in-depth interview with the young victim. It was there that the walls came crashing down on Andrea and her family.
While Teri was being interviewed in a separate room, the detective informed the rest of the family that Abel had already been turned over to immigration authorities. Within 48 hours of the arrest, Abel had been taken over to San Francisco, on was on his way to being deported out of the US and back to Mexico.
In the searing speed of a lightning strike through her heart, Andrea understood all that this meant. It meant that Abel would get away with everything. That there would be no justice, no trial, no punishment. That Abel would be free in Mexico to do as he pleases. Free to go on raping other children. Free to twist the tale in their beloved home town and make the family out to be liars. And free to return to the United States.
Andrea was wrenched with angst and anger. "No, no," the detective tried to calm the family, "They're going to take him to Texas, and then return him to Sonoma County." The whole family, Andrea says, “knew the detective was lying.”
"How can there be therapy, when there is no justice?"
The detective left the room. A counselor, Nancy, came in. Nancy turned to one of the older daughters and said, "Your mother's very upset." Then Nancy turned to Andrea, "You and your daughter Teri need to get some counseling. We can arrange that for you."
Andrea exploded in protest, "How can there be therapy, when there is no justice?"
Nancy responded firmly. "You have to talk to the police about justice. I have nothing to do with that. I can arrange to get you and your daughter therapy. If you don't get therapy for your daughter," said Nancy, her voice now threatening, "Then the county will get it for her. The county will take your daughter."
The family drove home in tears and rage. In the car, the middle daughter, Pilar, turned to Andrea and said, "Mom, in this country we aren't worth anything." But, says Andrea, "I had thought that in the United States at least a child had value."
Instead of justice, our law enforcement had provided this suspected felon safe flight out of the country, to avoid prosecution, punishment, and justice. Were an ordinary civilian to do that they would be guilty of being an accessory after the fact to child rape.
Andrea and her family now live in fear and despair, looking over their shoulders, always aware that at any moment Abel could suddenly reappear. Exactly like he did one year ago.
Denial of Justice by Design
Lest you think this story turns on a one-time regrettable error, please read on.
On November 7th, 2006, only six months before Abel was arrested for raping the 11-year-old, he was arrested by Petaluma Police for domestic violence. The DA filed a domestic violence charge. But instead of prosecuting that case, just days after that arrest our officials handed Abel over to immigration authorities and had him deported to Mexico. That’s right, the police and DA had carried out this same outrage with Abel once before.
Predictably, Abel quickly returned to the United States. And on March 15, 2007, Abel was arrested again by Petaluma Police for domestic violence. This time the DA didn't file charges. And then it was only one month later, Petaluma Police arrested Abel for the child molestation, and, again, in two days, handed him over to immigration for deportation.
If you're still not convinced that this denial of justice is by design, please read Alicia's story which follows.
Somewhere between the radio blaring world events and the blur of the day's chores, the quietest tension was brewing. It was no longer safe for Alicia to call us, and absolutely unthinkable for us to call Alicia. The slightest stray breath at this point could shatter the secret and dash the carefully guarded plan. It was the Thursday before the Monday when Alicia would escape with the kids. At the end of the trip, they’d step out into a far away state they'd never seen before, look all around, and whichever way they turned it would be the start of a brand new life.
Alicia had been piecing this plan together for three months. But really, her attempts to escape her abusive husband Enrique had begun years ago back in Mexico. The first time was nine years ago. Alicia was eight months pregnant when Enrique's abuse took a sudden, terrible turn. In the middle of an argument Enrique reached over, picked up a gun, and pressed the cold steel barrel deep into her pregnant belly. Alicia ran out the door straight into the archaic values of her family. "You married him," said her father, "You have to put up with him."
Alicia and Enrique moved to Bakersfield, California. Things would be different here, she thought. After another frightening beating, Alicia called Bakersfield Police. Despite her injuries, and against all protocol, the officer took the full weight of his job and laid it on Alicia's shoulders at the worst possible moment. The officer asked Alicia if she wanted her husband arrested. "I was a fool," says Alicia now. "I was afraid. I told the officer, 'No'."
Still Calling Out from Despair
Then last Spring, with two children now, and living in Santa Rosa, California, Alicia reached for the phone again. This time she called us. She had picked up our number once at a health clinic, and then again at California Parenting Institute. Even then, it was months before she gathered the courage to make the call. Alicia's voice on the other end of the line was timid and tenuous.
"What if I leave my husband? Can he get the children? Can he have me arrested? Can I leave the state?" she asked - the same anxious string of questions asked by so many immigrant women. In most Latin American countries a married women who flees the home with her children for any reason can be arrested for 'abandono de hogar', 'abandoning the home'.
"You have rights, Alicia. You can leave your home any time for any reason, married or not. You can take your children with you. If you're not a domestic violence victim, the only thing you can't do is conceal the whereabouts of your children from the father. But if you are a domestic violence victim, you can run! You can hide! And you can conceal the whereabouts of yourself and your children! That's the law. The only thing you have to do is notify the district attorney's office that you are fleeing domestic violence."
We've said it all so many times we forget how powerful that message can be. Phone call followed phone call. Each time Alicia had woven more strands of her dream into a real plan. Copies of prior police reports were gathered up and hidden away. The car was secretly sold but still parked in front of the house. Cash had been squirreled away. The trip paid for. Kid's clothes mentally packed. To-do lists checked off in her head. With each secret phone call, Alicia's voice was filled with more confidence than the last. There was only one more task to go.
Still Police Roadblocks on the Bridge to Women's Freedom
The Thursday before the Monday, was the hardest task of all. For the next three days Alicia would have to walk step by step, in a tired shuffle through her marriage as if the pounding gallop of freedom's horses weren't bursting into a stampede across her chest. And we would have to wait.
Thursday afternoon, the phone rang. Alicia's frantic hysteria made it near impossible to understand anything except the certainty that something had gone terribly wrong. The story came out like shards of glass from a crashing windshield. There had been a fight. She had called Santa Rosa Police. The officer arrested Enrique for domestic violence. Enrique was in jail.
"But, Alicia, why are you so upset? It's not good that you were attacked again. But it's turned into a blessing in disguise. He's in jail." "It's over, Alicia. You can go in peace. What's wrong?"
It took so, so, long for Alicia to get it out. Yes, the officer had arrested Enrique. Yes, Enrique was in jail. But when the officer had found out about Alicia's plan to flee with the children, the officer threatened to arrest her. "He told me I couldn't leave," Alicia cried in despair. "He told me the father had rights, too." "He told me he would have me arrested if I go."
"The officer told you he would arrest you if you left? Alicia, the officer is dead wrong! He's ignorant. He doesn't know the law. Sometimes they just say whatever they feel like saying. The law giving domestic violence victims the right to flee with their children has been in effect for more than 10 years. The officer is wrong! Wrong! Wrong!"
Alicia was inconsolable. And her reply was rock solid indisputable. "Yes," she said defeated, "But the police is the police!"
"Look, Alicia, there are a lot of ignorant patrol officers. I'll call the sergeant. He'll know the law and you'll see. Monday you're going to be free and far away with your children. And you're not going to get arrested."
Still Ignorant and Oblivious Up the Ranks
The sergeant was, as most people would agree, a 'nice guy'. He listened. He was patient. But, no, he didn't see the urgency. And he didn't know this law! Besides, said the sergeant, showing his utter antipathy to Alicia's plight, "I'm not going to send an officer all the way over there just to tell her she can leave."
The sergeant did finally look up the law. And he did admit that the law gave domestic violence victims the
right to flee with children and conceal their whereabouts. But good to his word, the sergeant did not, and would not, "send an officer all the way over there just to tell her she can leave." He left it to us to try to convince Alicia to risk everything by taking our word over that of the officer who was wrong. We did.
Four days later on Tuesday, in a wonderful phone call from far away, Alicia's voice was excited and tired. She was laughing. She couldn't believe she'd made it. In no time she found a job. Hope was blooming from one phone call to the next. And she couldn't wait for the first time she and her kids would see the snow.
Still Devising New Ways of Denying Justice
But unbeknownst to us, on Monday, August 6, four days after the arrest, and the same day Alicia was making her escape up north with her kids, our law enforcement turned Enrique over to immigration authorities. He was on his way to Mexico. The domestic violence charge filed by the district attorney was little more than a joke.
Today, three months later as we write this, there is a growing wariness in Alicia's voice. Enrique has found out where she is, right down to her exact address and phone number. He has threatened her numerous times by phone that he’s on his way to get her and the kids back. And in his latest phone call to Alicia as we write this, he said he was already back in the United States. The hope in Alicia’s voice has sunk back to fear and despair.