Monday, November 26, 2007

INB 11/26/07: ICE Agent Rapes Detainee; Chicago Airport Raided

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 28 - November 26, 2007

(Note: Immigration News Briefs did not publish for the past three weeks; the last issue came out on Nov. 4.)

1. Florida ICE Agent Rapes Detainee
2. Airport Raid in Chicago
3. Oakland Carpentry Company Raided
4. Ex-Detainee Wins Damages from Prison Firm

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe.


On Nov. 16, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Wilfredo Vazquez was arrested by federal agents in Tampa, Florida, and charged with three counts of knowingly causing a detainee under his supervision to engage in a sexual act. According to the accusation, Vazquez was driving a Jamaican woman, identified in an ICE press release only with the initials "M.C.," from ICE's Krome Service and Processing Center in Miami-Dade to the Broward Transition Center in Pompano Beach on the afternoon of Sept. 21 when he took a detour to his home in Tamarac and raped her there.

Vazquez had worked for ICE for less than a year. ICE issued a statement late on Nov. 16 saying that the agency fired Vazquez "shortly after the allegation was lodged against him." Federal authorities are now poring over computer records and other documents that track Vazquez's involvement in previous detainee transfers to see if other women were attacked but feared coming forward. Vazquez was also on rotation with an unidentified military reserve unit.

M.C., who had lived in the US for 12 years, was being transferred to Broward after being sentenced to time served in connection with a false claim to US citizenship. Immigration officials planned to place her in deportation proceedings.

In accusing Vazquez, M.C. said she did not outwardly resist the attack because she was afraid; she "emphasized that [he] was wearing his firearm at all times, and she did not know what he was capable of doing to her," according to the complaint. M.C. was released from immigration detention on Nov. 1, said Cheryl Little, executive director of Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is representing her. "I was scared for my life," said M.C. in a telephone interview before being released. "He had a gun. He's a big man, and I was in his custody." Little said the former detainee cried with relief when told Friday night about the arrest.

In a statement given to her attorneys, M.C. said she was at Krome's intake room when Vazquez noticed her among a crowd of male detainees. Vazquez told her: "I'll rescue you, so you don't have to wait for them to process all the men." In his van, Vazquez removed M.C.'s handcuffs, told her, "You can sit in the front if you are going to be a good girl," and helped her make phone calls to her daughter and a friend. After calling his wife to ensure she was not home, Vazquez took M.C. to his house and forced her to have sex with him before finally taking her to the Broward Transition

At the Broward facility, another Jamaican female detainee asked M.C. why she was crying. M.C. told her what had happened, and the next day the other detainee reported the conversation to facility officials, who took M.C. to the Broward Sheriff's Office and a treatment center.

Vazquez denied several times to investigators that the incident happened or that he stopped other than to get gas, according to an affidavit by Homeland Security agent David Nieland. But records from Florida's Turnpike SunPass electronic toll system showed Vazquez's official vehicle left the highway at a Commercial Boulevard ramp near his home, Nieland's affidavit said. Also, M.C. gave investigators accurate and detailed descriptions of the route they took and the interior and exterior of Vazquez's home.

The Broward Sheriff's Office first opened the investigation in late September after M.C. made her accusation against Vazquez. The ICE Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General got involved, and the US attorney's office in Miami developed the case. [Miami Herald 11/17/07; ICE News Release 11/19/07]


On Nov. 7, ICE agents arrested 24 workers at several warehouses close to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago in a raid culminating an eight-month investigation into Ideal Staffing Solutions, a temporary employment agency. Agents also executed a search warrant at the Ideal Staffing offices in Bensenville, Illinois, and arrested managers Norinye Benitez and Mary Gurin there on criminal charges. Benitez and Gurin were each charged with one count of harboring "illegal aliens" for financial gain and one count of misuse of Social Security numbers for allegedly assisting the workers in obtaining unauthorized access to secure areas of the airport, according to an ICE statement.

The workers who were arrested are facing felony charges in Cook County for possession of fraudulent identification in the form of airport security badges. Most are unauthorized immigrants from Mexico; they are being held at Cook County Jail but are expected to be deported, officials said.

Federal authorities say more than 100 temporary workers employed by Ideal Staffing were in possession of fraudulently obtained airport security badges, which allowed the workers to gain access to secure areas of the airport while loading pallets, freight and meals for companies doing business at O'Hare. In one instance, Benitez allegedly pushed a box filled with 20 green color-coded security badges toward a worker cooperating with federal agents and instructed him to "pick one with a picture that most closely resembled his own likeness," according to a federal affidavit filed Nov. 7. The worker, who had never been fingerprinted by federal aviation officials, used the deactivated badge he chose to gain access to a United Airlines cargo facility, officials alleged. Federal officials couldn't say how the company got access to deactivated Chicago city Aviation Department security badges or why those badges would still allow someone to enter a restricted area. [Chicago Tribune 11/7/07, 11/8/07]

On Nov. 8, the city Aviation Department issued a statement saying it is cooperating with federal officials. The department said the city uses a badging process approved by the federal Department of Homeland Security.

ICE announced on Nov. 8 that it had arrested 10 more workers in connection with the same investigation into Ideal Staffing Solutions. Some of the workers were apparently arrested at their homes. [CT 11/9/07] ICE was assisted in the investigation by the Social Security Administration-Office of the Inspector General; Department of Labor- Office of the Inspector General; US Attorney's Office; Cook County State's Attorney's Office; Cook County Sheriff's Police Department; City of Chicago-Office of the Inspector General; US Customs and Border Protection; and the Transportation Security Administration. [ICE News Release 11/7/07]


On Nov. 6, ICE agents arrested Mexican national Jose de Jesus "Pepe" Guzman-Baez at his Oakland, California carpentry business, Pepe's Cabinets, following a search executed at the premises. Guzman was arraigned on Nov. 7 in US District Court on criminal charges for unlawfully employing and harboring unauthorized immigrants. ICE agents also detained and processed seven workers encountered during the raid on administrative immigration violations. According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, Guzman and all of his employees were using Social Security numbers that appeared to be fraudulent or did not match Social Security Administration records. The raid culminated a 16-month investigation into the hiring practices at Pepe's Cabinets, sparked by information provided to ICE's toll-free tip line. [ICE News Release 11/7/07]


On Nov. 13, in its second day of deliberations, a federal jury in Newark, New Jersey awarded former asylum seeker Hawa Abdi Jama of Somalia $100,000 in damages after finding the private company that ran an immigration detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, negligent in its hiring and training. The jury rejected a claim that Jama's international human rights were violated during her 11-month detention at Elizabeth in 1994-95.

Jama, now a US citizen living in Ohio, was one of nine immigrants who had sued Correctional Services Corp. (CSC)--known as Esmor when it ran the Elizabeth center--over abuses at the facility. During a six-week trial in Newark, the company reached settlements with the other eight defendants. In 2005, a separate group of 1,600 former detainees at the Elizabeth facility got a $2.5 million settlement from CSC, with most getting less than $1,000 each after legal fees [see INB 9/17/05].

The federal government closed the Elizabeth detention center and canceled the contract with Esmor after hundreds of detainees rioted over poor conditions at the facility in June 1995. The detention center reopened in January 1997 under contract with the Corrections Corp. of America, based in Nashville, Tennessee, which continues to operate it.

Jama's suit, filed in June 1997 as Jama v. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), was based on the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which is generally applied in cases involving atrocities committed outside the US. In November 2004, US District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise dismissed charges against the federal immigration agency and its officials, saying the government could not be sued. He also dismissed some charges against the company's guards, finding that individual actions did not rise to the level of international human rights abuses. But he allowed the suit to move forward with charges against the company and its officials, ruling that the defendants had the right to use the statute to seek monetary damages for violations on US soil. It was the first time the 1789 law has been used against a private company.

During the trial, Jama said she and others held at the Elizabeth facility were beaten, fed rotten food, denied basic supplies such as toothbrushes and sanitary napkins, and forced to use toilets and sinks overflowing with feces and vomit. "I felt like I wasn't human," she said.

Penny Venetis, co-director of the constitutional litigation clinic at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, who represented Jama and her co-plaintiffs, contended that the company cut corners for profits. Venetis urged the jury to award punitive damages to her client to "send a message" to the company and prevent it from abusing others. The defense argued the allegations were exaggerated and that Jama was traumatized by her experience in Somalia, not by abuses at the detention center. "She came here as a damaged person and we have empathy for her, but that does not mean we are responsible under our judicial system,"said CSC attorney Larry Reich.

Although the jury rejected Jama's claim that her international human rights had been violated, it found the company and four of its officers were negligent in hiring, training, supervising and retaining guards. The jury awarded her $100,000 in compensatory damages. Jama, who is Muslim, also alleged she was prevented from practicing her religion. The jury found Esmor and one of its officers liable under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and awarded Jama an additional $1 in damages on that claim.

Venetis said she was disappointed the jury rejected the human rights claim, but added that "the $100,000 is not peanuts." She also said the eight other defendants would not agree to a gag order on their settlements, so details eventually will be disclosed. "I think it's critical for the public to know that when corporations violate human rights they will be called to task, and we have called them to task," said Venetis. [Star-Ledger (Newark) 11/14/07; AP 11/14/07]

CSC was purchased in July 2005 by the Geo Group Inc., a multinational prison and security company based in Boca Raton, Florida, which operated under the name Wackenhut Corrections Corporation until late 2003. [Geo Group website accessed 11/26/07, see] Geo reported 2006 profits of $30 million, or $1.68 per share, compared with $7 million, or 47 cents per share, a year earlier. It had revenue of $860.9 million in 2006, compared with $612.9 million in 2005. [AP 11/14/07]


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