JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
A farm worker walked in the fields of Kunia yesterday. Several workers were arrested in July at similar farms owned by Larry Jefts. Several lawmakers are calling for tougher prosecution of illegal aliens. The 43 who allegedly worked for The Farms Inc., a Central Oahu agricultural business, were arrested July 20 on administrative immigration civil complaints that clear the way for their deportation.
Isle immigrants face felony counts
Illegal aliens arrested in Waipahu could serve time in prison before being deported
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A 24-year-old Mexican man crossed the border into the United States last year, bought bogus identification cards in Fresno, Calif., for $130 and came to Hawaii to work for The Farms Inc. in Central Oahu.
He is one of 43 Mexican nationals arrested July 20 on administrative immigration civil charges, clearing the way for their deportation.
But Juan De Ramona Cantor is also one of 15 men charged last week with a federal felony of using bogus documents to get work. The tougher prosecution stance comes as Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials say they have been increasing enforcement nationwide of illegal workers.
As part of the ongoing investigation in Hawaii, prosecutors said they are evaluating the "prosecution potential" against employers of alleged illegal workers.
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Federal prosecutors have stepped up the prosecution of illegal aliens working here by charging 15 of the 43 Mexican workers recently arrested in Waipahu with felonies for allegedly using fake work documents to get jobs.
The 15 Mexican* men are charged with using a false permanent resident card to work at The Farms in Central Oahu. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Amadeo Bautista Santiago, 21, Fresno, Calif., charged with using a lawful permanent resident (green card) number of a Mexican woman born in 1959. He said he entered the U.S. through the desert and bought green and Social Security cards for $220 in Fresno.
Cecilio Seba-Polito, 32, Stockton, Calif., charged with using the green card number of an Salvadoran man born in 1978. He said he paid a smuggler $3,000 to cross through the desert near Lukeville, Ariz., and bought green and Social Security cards for $50 in Stockton.
Cirilo Gomez Zaragosa, 26, Stockton, charged with using the green card number of an African man born in 1973. He admitted he paid a smuggler $1,400 get into the U.S. near Douglas, Ariz., and bought green and Social Security cards for $50.
Floro Mendez Sanchez, 22, Waipahu, charged with using a green card number that could not be verified. He said he paid $1,400 to get smuggled into the U.S. and bought green and Social Security cards in Stockton for $80.
Hugo Sanchez Castillo, 22, Waipahu, charged with using a green card number belonging to a naturalized U.S. citizen born in 1964. He said he paid a guide $1,500 to walk from Sonorita, Mexico, to Arizona and bought green and Social Security cards in Stockton for $50.
Juan De Ramona Cantor, 24, Fresno, charged with using a green card number belonging to a naturalized U.S. citizen born in 1968. He said he crossed though the Sonora Desert to get into the U.S. on April 18, 2007, and bought green and Social Security cards for $130 in Fresno.
Lorenzo Sanchez Lucas, 41, Stockton, charged with using a green card number belonging to a Cuban woman born in 1941. He said he walked into the U.S. near Sonora, Ariz., in March 2007 and bought green and Social Security cards in Stockton for $65.
Ismael Cortez-Flores, 22, Stockton, charged with using a green card number that was never issued. He said he walked into the U.S. near Tijuana, Mexico, and San Ysidro, Calif., and bought green and Social Security cards in Stockton for $60.
Apolinar Monjaraz-Cruz, 29, Waipahu, charged with using a green card number that was never issued. He said he walked through the desert near Sonora and bought green and Social Security cards in Fresno.
Pablo Hernandez-Blas, 26, Waipahu, charged with using a number that was never issued. He said he came to the U.S. near El Paso, Texas, and bought green and Social Security cards in Stockton for $170.
Alfonso Castillo-Calderon, 31, Waipahu, charged with using a green card number that was never issued. He said he came into the U.S. without inspection and bought a green card from an unknown man in Los Angeles for $50.
Aristeo Garcia-Estrada, 30, Selma, Calif., charged with using a green card never that was never issued. He said he came into the U.S. on foot through Tijuana and San Ysidro, and bought green and Social Security cards for $140.
Jorge Medina-Aceves, 29, Waianae, charged with using a green card number belonging to a 30-year-old Guatemalan woman. He said he came to the U.S. in 1996 near Calexico, Calif., without being properly inspected by an immigration official and bought a green card from an unknown man in Watsonville, Calif., for $50.
Jose Cruz-Gutierrez, 46, Waipahu, charged with using a green card number that does not match with other information he provided. He said he walked though the desert into the U.S. in Tijuana and San Ysidro and bought green and Social Security cards in Salem, Calif., for $100.
Leobardo Flores-Ramirez, 25, Stockton, charged with using a green card number that was never issued. He said he paid $800 to be smuggled into the U.S. at San Luis, Ariz., and bought green and Social Security cards at a swap meet in Stockton for $50.
* Ages and hometown based on information the men provided on their I-9 employment verification form. Source: Criminal complaints and affidavits by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
The 43 who worked for The Farms Inc., a Central Oahu agricultural business, were arrested July 20 on administrative immigration civil complaints that clear the way for their deportation back to Mexico.
Other illegal aliens arrested in work site cases in the past faced the same civil immigration deportation charges, such as the 19 arrested in December at a downtown construction site and a Halawa warehouse.
But federal authorities also charged 15 of 43 farm workers last week with felonies that could lead to them serving prison time before they are sent back to their homelands.
The felony charges accuse the farm workers of using bogus documentation to complete I-9 forms that they are eligible to work.
The 15 men are believed to be the largest group to be prosecuted here in recent years in a single case involving work site violations.
"We have definitely ramped up prosecution, and work site enforcement is a priority in our office," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Hino said last week.
He said the investigation is continuing as they evaluate the other 28 workers. All are being held at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu.
Hino said in work site cases, law enforcement officials also evaluate the "prosecution potential" against the employer.
Only the workers have been charged in the case, but some of the 15 are cooperating with prosecutors.
Gary Singh, lawyer for Juan De Ramona Cantor, 24, who claimed to be from Fresno, Calif., said his client is cooperating. "The government is very interested in talking to him," Singh said.
William Domingo, who represents Pablo Hernandez-Blas, 26, said his client might also cooperate. "Obviously, they want them to talk about the employer," Domingo said.
Court papers identify the owner of The Farms as Larry Jefts, who did not respond to calls from the Star-Bulletin asking for comment.
The investigation was triggered by the arrest of another employee of The Farms at Honolulu Airport earlier this year, according to Hino.
Miguel Gonzalez was arrested March 3 when he was about to board a Hawaiian Airlines flight to San Jose, Calif. A Transportation Security Administration agent noticed that his boarding pass had a different name from his green card, according to court documents.
Investigators also found two pay stubs from The Farms Inc., court papers said.
Gonzalez later pleaded guilty to using false documents to work here. He was sentenced to time served.
Gonzalez's case led to officials asking Jefts in April for the I-9 forms from his employees, according to court papers. In May the documents were sent to immigration officials, leading to the administrative civil charges and the arrests of the 43 men.
In the prosecution of the 15 farm workers, the men admitted in interviews conducted in Spanish that they are Mexican citizens who illegally crossed the borders of California, Arizona and Texas, according to court documents.
Some said they paid smugglers as much as $3,000. One said he paid a guide $1,500 to walk from Sonorita, Mexico, to Arizona. Another said he was not properly inspected by an immigration official when he crossed the border.
Most of the men said they bought fake green cards and Social Security cards in Fresno and Stockton, Calif. They generally paid $50 to $100 for them.
The numbers on the fake cards were either never issued or belonged to others, including Mexican, Salvadoran and Cuban women and an African man.
The men used the documents to get work at The Farms in 2006 through this year, the court documents said.
Singh said his client crossed the border and went to California, where he and friends were recruited to work in Hawaii. He said the employer paid the airfare and arranged for housing at the Waipahu apartment complex.
The lawyer said his client and seven co-workers shared a two-bedroom apartment.
Singh said $98 was deducted from each of his client's two paychecks per month for the rent. His client was a worker and tractor driver at a Central Oahu farm, earning $9 an hour. He worked 45 to 50 hours a week with no overtime, Singh said.
His client faces deportation, but he wants to somehow make Hawaii his home, the lawyer said.
"Life is hard in Mexico," Singh said.
The arrests and prosecution come at a time when Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials say they have been increasing enforcement nationwide of illegal aliens working unlawfully. They arrested 4,900 people last year in work site enforcement cases, including 863 who were criminally charged.
The criminal arrests are 45 times more than the number in fiscal year 2001, according to immigration officials.
In Hawaii a partnership of the Hawaii Carpenters Union and more than 200 contractors has launched a campaign that includes television advertisements decrying illegal aliens unlawfully working in Hawaii.
Kyle Chock, executive director of the Pacific Resource Partnership, applauded the efforts to step up enforcement and prosecution.
"The whole point behind (the group's campaign) is to really raise awareness of this growing problem in Hawaii," he said.
Chock said the real culprits are the employers who exploit illegal workers.
"While I can sympathize with immigrants coming to America to find a better way of life, it shouldn't be done at the expense of local jobs and local people," Chock said.