Robles Loreto stays strong, keeps faith while in sanctuary

Josie Valenzuela, left, and Robles Loreto share a laugh as they prepare meals. Robles Loreto helps cook for homeless people who eat at the church twice weekly. Photo by A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star.

Rosa Robles Loreto used to have so much to do that she rose at 4:30 a.m. just to fit it all in.

She would see her husband off to his early-morning landscaping job, then get her two sons up and ready for school before heading out to her own job. After cleaning two or three houses, she would fix dinner, help the boys with their homework, take them to baseball practice and point them toward the shower before bed.

But in the year since she sought sanctuary inside Southside Presbyterian Church to avoid deportation, life has slowed to a crawl.

To pass the time, she cleans the church’s shared shower room and helps volunteers prepare meals for the homeless. Sometimes she stays up until 4 a.m. — about when she used to get up — surfing the Internet. And why not? With her family still living in their South Tucson manufactured home to keep a sense of routine in her children’s lives, she has no reason to get up early.

When she stepped inside the church 367 days ago, she knew it could take weeks, even months, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cancel the Aug. 8, 2014, deportation order that started with a traffic stop for an incorrect lane change, got worse with a petition to stay that the federal government never answered, and ended with a lawyer who didn’t ask that her case be closed. That put her on a path to being kicked out of the country. So far, ICE has denied her new attorney’s requests, but insists she is not a priority for deportation.

That’s not enough for Robles Loreto, who has lived in Tucson since 1999 and wants a piece of paper saying she can legally stay — even if only temporarily. Once she’s deported back to Mexico, she can’t legally return unless something in the law or her situation changes, so she says doing it this way is her only chance.

Still, had she known how long this would take, she says, she might not have done it. She has spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, her 42nd birthday and her sons’ birthdays inside the church. For the second year, she missed taking them to their first day of school.

“That’s the hardest thing, not being able to be with my sons,” she says. “Knowing that my children have a mother, but at the same time they don’t have one at home.”

For their sake, her situation makes her sad. And for their sake, she says, she will not give up.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Shooting details emerge in civil trials

A memorial for Carlos LaMadrid is displayed along the U.S.-Mexico border fence east of the port of entry in Douglas. Photo by Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star archive.

With little information available about most Border Patrol-involved shootings, civil trials offer a rare glimpse into what happens after an agent fires his weapon — as in the case of a teenager shot to death while trying to climb over the border fence.

Carlos LaMadrid

The family of 19-year-old Carlos LaMadrid sued the U.S. government in a civil trial that ended last week. LaMadrid was shot by Border Patrol agent Lucas Tidwell on March 21, 2011 as he tried to climb a ladder to flee into Mexico after a high-speed chase by Douglas police. A judge is expected to make a decision in the case in the next few months.

Without a civil trial, the public typically learns little about agent-involved shootings — Tidwell’s name only came out through the lawsuit filed by LaMadrid’s family. But many details emerged during the trial: For example, Tidwell said he fired at a silhouette because he was under attack by a rock thrower. Vehicles and the ladder were moved immediately following the shooting. And after a agent-involved shooting, Border Patrol supervisors typically arrive almost immediately, and among other things, ask agents a series of eight questions.

The government argued that Tidwell, now stationed in New Mexico, feared for his life as three softball-size rocks were hurled at him, one cracking his windshield, and said LaMadrid was unfortunately in the line of fire.

CONVICTIONS, DISCIPLINE RARE

At least 10 people have died in Border Patrol-related shootings in Southern Arizona since 2010 and another five have been injured.

Nationally, there have been more than two dozen deaths. None of the agents involved have been convicted or publicly disciplined.

Locally, three agents have been criminally charged in more than 20 years, but in all three cases the agents were cleared.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Civil trial concludes in Douglas border killing

Determining if a Border Patrol agent was justified in killing a Douglas teen in 2011 might come down to whether there were rocks being thrown from across the border at the time, making the agent fear for his life.

The bench trial in the fatal shooting of Carlos LaMadrid by Border Patrol agent Lucas Tidwell ended Tuesday after nearly seven days of testimony before U.S. District Judge James Soto.

Neither the Department of Justice nor the Cochise County Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Tidwell, citing lack of evidence to prove he didn’t shoot in self-defense. But LaMadrid’s family sued the federal government for what they consider to be unjustified use of force.

LaMadrid, 19, a U.S. citizen, was killed on March 21, 2011, as he climbed a ladder over the border fence to flee into Mexico following a high-speed chase by Douglas police. Officers were responding to reports of a gold Avalanche loaded with bundles of marijuana. A bag with 48 pounds of marijuana was found in the truck.

The government says Tidwell was being attacked by rock throwers and LaMadrid was in the line of fire. Even if the agent was negligent — something David Wallace with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he does not think was the case — the government is not liable because the agent’s use of force was justified given the circumstances.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Number of crossers released to ICE is down

Pima County jail officials now let U.S. immigration officials know when they are going to release someone with a federal warrant. If ICE wants to pick up that person, it needs to do so in a matter of hours. Corrections officer Alyssa Burgos is above. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star archive.

A new federal program designed to deport serious criminals or those who pose a threat to public safety is already having an impact in Pima County and Arizona — even as it is being rolled out nationally.

In the midst of court rulings and a refocus on deporting dangerous criminals in the country illegally as they are released from jail, local Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are detaining fewer newly released inmates overall.

The total number of people released to ICE from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is down 20 percent from 2012 to 2014, while the average jail population in Pima County has decreased about 7 percent.

Under the Priority Enforcement Program, which Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced in November, instead of immigration officials asking local jails to hold persons of interest for up to 48 hours, they will now request they be notified before their release in most cases.

The change is part of the dismantling of the Secure Communities program, which had the same goal as the new effort but was widely criticized for sweeping up minor offenders or those charged but never convicted of a crime. It was also subject to lawsuits claiming it violated the Fourth Amendment.

“Its very name has become a symbol for general hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws,” Johnson wrote in a Nov. 20, 2014, memo announcing the new program.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Escape’s impact on Sonora is uncertain

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s escape from prison might lead to more instability within the Sinaloa Cartel, but its effect on Sonora, is still unknown, officials said.

“Some of the up-and-comers may have maneuvered themselves into better positions while he was away,” said Erica Curry, a Phoenix spokeswoman with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We are anticipating that El Chapo with his people may reassert his influence,” she said. That might lead to resistance from those who had positioned themselves in leadership roles.

The Sinaloa Cartel has decentralized over the past few years, leading to sporadic, violent power struggles between plaza bosses in northern Sonora.

So far this year, dozens of people, mostly believed to be associated with organized crime, have been killed in the Sonoyta and Caborca regions, across the border from Lukeville, Ariz., due to fighting between cells of the Sinaloa cartel known as Los Memos and Los Salazar.

“It will be interesting to see if that (violence) increases as different factions of the cartels, the lower level members are fighting out there and how they aligned themselves with El Chapo’s return,” Curry said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Communication still a challenge for indigenous border crossers

Sebastian Quinac, a spokesman for the Guatemalan community in Tucson, explains to Maria Gomez how to read her bus ticket. Photo by Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star archive.

Indigenous border crossers continue to face language barriers despite requirements that information be provided in a language they understand, advocates say.

“Many are processed based on an interview where they don’t fully comprehend what it means in terms of their legal rights,” and that can be the difference between qualifying for asylum or being deported, said Blake Gentry, author of the report “Exclusion of indigenous language speaking immigrants in the US Immigration system, a technical review.”

Since 2000, federal agencies are required to assess and improve access to services for those with limited English proficiency. But 15 years later, the implementation of comprehensive language programs remains uneven, government officials and advocates have said.

From the time they get caught at the border, there’s no assessment tool to determine a person’s primary language, interpretation services are inconsistent and neither agents or officers at the border are properly trained to determine how fluent they are, for instance, in Spanish, said Gentry, of Ama Consultants in Tucson.

For his report, he reviewed current policies and practices and interviewed immigrant families, immigration attorneys, court interpreters, people who had contact with indigenous-language speaking immigrants in adult and family detention centers and in shelters for unaccompanied minors.

Spanish is still the predominant language spoken by those captured at the border, but the share of Central Americans — in particular Guatemalans in the Tucson sector — is going up.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

UA researchers seek standard in handling of border deaths

Traci Van Deest, a forensic anthropology postdoctoral fellow, takes inventory of a set of remains that was found in 2014 near Ajo at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. Photo by Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star.

Hundreds of people die or are reported missing each year while trying to cross the border illegally, but there’s no accurate count due to a patchwork of practices along the border.

University of Arizona researchers hope to change that with a new best-practices manual designed to standardize the identification and examination of unauthorized border-crosser remains. A standard criteria along the entire border would help ensure an accurate count of bodies examined and a better estimate of how many people are dying trying to cross the border, said Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, a forensic investigator with the Binational Migration Institute at the University of Arizona.

Since 2000, more than 2,000 people have died while crossing the border in Arizona, until recently the busiest spot for crossings and deaths. But aside from the Office of the Medical Examiner in Pima County, which is seen as the gold standard, no other entity systematically tracks how many immigrants’ remains are recovered.

As migration patterns shift, so has the share of people dying in Texas — particularly in Brooks County, where most die while hiking through rugged ranchland trying to circumvent a Border Patrol checkpoint. So far this year, the remains of about 30 people have been recovered in that county alone, compared to about 50 in Southern Arizona.

And many of them are not identified.

Part of the problem is a lack of training and resources. It took years for the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office to develop supplementary autopsy report forms that help with future identification, to learn about fingerprinting techniques when remains are mummified and to continuously update a database with information, including GPS coordinates, of undocumented border-crosser remains.

Of 35 counties that responded to a survey that helped shape the best-practices manual, only 40 percent said they consistently retain records of the unidentified.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.