On Thursday, Aug. 2, three men were sentenced on immigration-related charges at the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse, bringing the number of people arraigned in Missoula’s federal court on immigration charges so far in 2018 to seven. In 2017, there were no federal immigration crimes charged in Missoula, according to court records.
Statewide, Montana had 11 federal immigration cases in 2017. Sixteen have been filed in the state to date this year.
It has been an active year for Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Montana.
The sentencings had a lot in common. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cyndee Peterson prosecuted for the state. The defendants were represented by court-appointed defenders and required the services of an English-Spanish interpreter. All submitted guilty pleas and were sentenced to time served before being remanded to ICE for deportation. None had non-immigration-related prior criminal records in the U.S.
The first case of the day, in Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch’s courtroom, involved one of the men picked up in late May during an early-morning raid on a morel-pickers camp in Mineral County. Guatemalan national Tomas Andres-Gregorio was charged with eluding examination by an immigration officer and forcibly resisting an officer (the affidavit says Andres-Gregorio tried to walk past an agent, thereby resisting and impeding an officer).
Missoula activists had worked to draw attention to Andres-Gregorio’s case, saying he’d been particularly abused in the morel camp raid. Missoula immigrant-rights activist and DACA recipient Neyreda Calero told the Indy that when Andres-Gregorio was taken to the Missoula County Detention Center, he met one of her friends, a man who’d been arrested in a raid in Hamilton in March. Knowing that Calero would be interested in hearing about the raid, her friend put them in touch.
“[Andres-Gregorio is] the one that told us at first what had happened,” Calero said. “One of the girls that was there, she tried taking her phone out to record what was going on and record the abuse they were going through, and one of the officers told her to put her phone away and pointed at her with a gun.”
Calero and other members of Montanans for Immigrant Justice made a video about the raid using audio of an interview with Andres-Gregorio’s nephew Vicente. Calero said Vicente told her his uncle needs to work in the U.S. in order to pay back money he owes to people in Guatemala, where he still has close family members.
At his sentencing hearing, Andres-Gregorio’s translator told his attorney, “He doesn’t want to go back to immigration because they’ll send him home.” In a hearing that took about 40 minutes, that was the final outcome: time served, and remanded to ICE custody for deportation.
At 10 a.m., prosecutor Peterson moved upstairs to the court of Donald Molloy for the sentencing of Rogelio Jaimes Estrada, who had also been caught up in the morel camp raid. Estrada had no criminal record save for a previous deportation in 2004. Prior to his sentencing, letters requesting leniency had been submitted to the court by his 16-year-old son, one of his son’s teachers at Centralia (Washington) High School, and his sister-in-law. “I am currently working extra hours so I don’t lose our home. I don’t live with my Mother, my father and I live alone,” his son wrote, “I am still trying to get used to that my father is away. It is hard doing everything and working on my own now that he is gone. It hurts to know he isn’t coming back home anytime soon.” The letters weren’t mentioned in court.
Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Estrada said through the interpreter that he apologized to the judge and to the government. “I came into this country out of necessity for my family. Deport me, because I have family outside of the country,” he said.
The last sentencing of the day was of Sergio Rosas-Padron, a Mexican citizen who had been detained following a June 5 Homeland Security Investigations operation in Whitefish. Rosas-Padron was facing charges of illegal re-entry, having been deported from Rio Grande City, Texas, in 2012. “Please forgive me for having entered the U.S. without any papers,” Rosas-Padron said. Molloy sentenced him to time served and turned him over to ICE for deportation. Molloy had a question for Rosas-Padron as he explained the consequences of his guilty plea: “Are you going to come back?”
“No,” Rosas-Padron answered through the interpreter.
Molloy, observing Rosas-Padron’s expression, addressed the court reporter: “The record should reflect a smile,” Molloy said.