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When doing the right thing leads to arrest

An illegal immigrant assists police and gets deported

(Page 2 of 2)



In the wake of Sigui's deportation, Matthew Jerzyk, the director of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, launched efforts to create a confidentiality policy in Providence, Central Falls, and other nearby communities. Such a policy would not necessarily have protected Sigui, since it was not the police who contacted the Department of Homeland Security but the Rhode Island attorney general's office. Still, Mr. Jerzyk says what happened to Sigui has created fear.

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"What is going to happen in our very large immigrant community if others say, 'I'm not going to step forward and testify. They may research me and possibly punish me, and deport me back to the dangerous country from which I fled.' "

Jerzyk modeled his policy, still a work in progress, after New York City's, which was modified in September. That executive order bars city employees from inquiring about immigration status because it is considered a privacy issue, like sexual orientation, unless there is suspicion of criminal activity.

The CLEAR Act, which has more than 100 cosponsors in the House, would officially undo such policies, however. With only some 5,500 federal agents available for enforcement in areas beyond the border, supporters of the legislation say that local police officers play a vital role in helping protect the nation's borders.

The issue remains a polarizing topic: The California Police Chiefs Association has criticized the CLEAR Act, introduced by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R) of Georgia; the National Sheriffs' Association has endorsed the idea.

Immigrant advocates say critics who claim such policies protect potential terrorists overlook an important point. "If there is a terrorist [in the neighborhood]," says Michele Waslin of National Council of La Raza, "it is likely that the immigrants in those communities will be the ones to know something about that activity."

What's more, they say, the legislation will hurt the most vulnerable, like battered women, who may fear deportation more than their abusive relationships, says Gail Pendleton, associate director at the National Immigration Project in Boston. Her group helped establish a special visa to enable victimized women to gain temporary legal status. But like other visas, the amnesty program is not easily accessible, nor is amnesty always granted.

Ms. Pendleton says the CLEAR Act would be likely to unwind years of work. "There will be no safety for noncitizens," she says. "It will create a complete underground society."

Sigui, who gave police the alias Victor Estrada because of his illegal status, says he wasn't afraid to cooperate. "My life was in order... I thought, 'This can't get too serious.' "

His status came up during the AG's routine background check, which revealed not only that their witness had several aliases, but that he had been deported (under the name Hugo Garcia) in 1993. The AG's office says under federal law it was obligated to contact the Department of Homeland Security.

"They never told me," says Sigui, who has three children in the US and was engaged to be married to Mary Cordero, an American, in August. "They just showed up to arrest me."

On Dec. 19, Sigui married Ms. Cordero in Guatemala and the couple plan to begin an appeals process. He hopes to return to his family in the US someday. "I wish it could be tomorrow," he says. "But it could take years."

"[The attorney general] feels really bad about what happened to Danny Sigui, Victor Estrada, Hugo Garcia," says spokes-man Mike Healey. "He did a great service. He did the right thing."

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