Sanctuary workers, buoyed by light sentences, vow to continue. But prosecutors say years of probation a `startling deterrent' to smuggling of illegal aliens into the US
Tucson, Ariz. — By sentencing sanctuary workers to probation rather than sending them to jail, US District Judge Earl Carroll has allowed both sides to claim victory. ``Nothing has changed,'' said Rev. John Fife who, along with two more defendants, was expected to receive a suspended sentence Wednesday. ``The government spent $3 million, two years, tied up all these agents, and they still have the same problem.''
Representatives for the government were also confident they had made their point.
``At least people understand that there are consequences to their actions,'' said Ruth Ann Myers, the Arizona director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service who came down from Phoenix for the sentencing. Special assistant US prosecutor Donald Reno, who prosecuted the 11 sanctuary movement members in the six-month-long trial, said the ``inconsequential'' sentences were typical for first-time felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.
``[The convictions] were the most startling deterrent they're ever going to receive in a court of law,'' said Mr. Reno.
Eight church workers were convicted by a federal jury on May 1 on charges of conspiracy, bringing into the United States, transporting, and harboring illegal aliens. Three were acquitted. The five sentenced Tuesday were all given five years' probation except one defendant, Wendy LeWin, who was given three years' probation.
``I wish they had gotten even less than that,'' said juror Dennis Davis. Other jurors who convicted the eight also expressed relief that the defendants had not been sent to jail.
The first three defendants sentenced, Peggy Hutchison, Sister Darlene Nicgorski, and Philip Willis-Conger, said they would not be able to abide by one of the conditions of probation. Judge Carroll had said the defendants should not associate with anyone engaged in transporting, or harboring illegal aliens. The three said this condition could prevent them from attending church or working with the Tucson Ecumenical Council.
While sentencing Wendy LeWin and Socorro Aguilar, Carroll dropped the condition about association and then agreed to drop it for the other defendants as well. The only conditions remaining for the probation are that the defendants cannot break any laws themselves and that they must get their probation officer's permission before leaving Arizona.
None of the defendants showed remorse for what they had done. Each was allowed to make a speech describing their religious motivation and their still-strong conviction that the Salvadoreans and Guatemalans they helped were political refugees.
They expressed disillusionment with the legal system that had not allowed the truth about Central America to come out, referring to Carroll's pretrial rulings that conditions in Central America and international domestic laws protecting refugees were not defenses to the alien smuggling charges.