Saturday, April 25, 2009

All-white jury set in Schuylkill racial trial - Men allegedly shouted slurs during beating of illegal Mexican immigrant

By John J. Moser | Of The Morning Call
April 23, 2009

The trial of two of the three men charged with fatally beating an illegal immigrant in Schuylkill County while shouting racial slurs in July will be heard by an all-white jury.

The six-man, six-woman panel was selected Wednesday to hear the cases of Brandon J. Piekarsky, 18, and Derrick M. Donchak, 19, both of Shenandoah, who are scheduled to be tried starting Monday in the death of Luis Ramirez, 25, a Mexican who had lived in the borough for six years.

Four alternate jurors are scheduled to be chosen today.

Ramirez died two days after a July 12 beating, which police said came after the teens and others, after a night of drinking, encountered Ramirez in a dark borough alley.

Piekarsky and Donchak, both white, also face ethnic intimidation and other counts.

The jury was seated after less than eight hours of questioning by county President Judge William E. Baldwin, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Nearly a dozen potential jurors were dismissed after they said they couldn't be impartial in a case involving an illegal immigrant.

''If [immigrants] weren't here illegally, it wouldn't have happened,'' one woman told Baldwin.

Another, asked what she knew about the case, told the judge, ''Some boys picked on a Hispanic man and he was accidentally killed. ... I don't think they meant to kill him.''

A man said, ''I feel that anyone who's here illegally doesn't have the same rights as someone who's here legally.''

Schuylkill County's population is 96.6 percent Caucasian, and just 1.1 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Just one of the more than 60 potential jurors was of color. That resident was dismissed because he also said he couldn't be fair in a case involving race.

''I personally had some hatred toward me in the past,'' he told Baldwin. ''I think it'd be hard for me to be fair and impartial.''

Outside the courtroom, the man who declined to give his name or ethnicity said, ''We live in an area that's not ethnically aware.''

District Attorney James P. Goodman declined to comment about the jury's racial makeup or potential jurors' comments.

But attorney Frederick Fanelli, who represents Piekarsky, and Jeffrey Markosky, who represents Donchak, were pleased with the selected jury, Fanelli said.

''The jurors we picked seemed alert, honest and attentive,'' Fanelli said. ''I can't comment on how someone feels or doesn't feel about a particular issue, but I'm glad they were honest and forthright about their personal beliefs.''

The case has generated national interest because of its alleged racial motivation. There were protests at the preliminary hearing last year and court officials expect more for the trial. Baldwin last week barred protests within a quarter-mile of the courthouse to keep them away from jurors. There were no signs of protests Wednesday.

A third man charged in the case, Colin Walsh, 18, of Shenandoah, on Friday had all charges filed against him in Schuylkill County Court dropped after court documents indicated he has pleaded guilty in federal court. Records of the pleas have not been made public, and it's unclear to what charges Walsh has admitted.

The charges withdrawn were third-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, aggravated and simple assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation in the death.

Piekarsky faces the same charges. Donchak is charged with assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault.

Walsh's name was on a lengthy list of potential witnesses Baldwin read to potential jurors to gauge whether they knew or have had any dealings with them. No potential jurors said they knew him or the other defendants.

Baldwin told the jury pool there may be an argument of self-defense in the case and, ''if that comes up, it will be up to the commonwealth to prove that was not the case.'' He also said the defendants have no burden to prove their innocence and may choose to not testify or present evidence.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Email sparks allegations of racism against Austin Capital Management

An email sent earlier this week from local hedge fund manager Austin Capital Management Ltd. has raised the eyebrows and ire of at least one Austin group.

The U.S. Hispanic Contractor’s Association de Austin sent a statement out April 16 in reaction to the email, which reads “Tax Reminder...April 15, 2009” and has a picture of four Hispanic males with a caption that reads “Muchas Gracias! 21 million illegal aliens are depending on you!” The email went out to a list of undisclosed recipients.

“The content of the beyond offensive to the Hispanic community,” Frank Fuentes, chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, said in the statement. “Messages, such as the one sent out by [the company] serves to do nothing more than propagate fear and fans the fires of ignorance and hatred toward a group that toils tirelessly, in oftentimes underappreciated crafts, for the good of themselves, their families and for ALL individuals who call America their home.”

A spokesman for Austin Capital Management released a statement saying "we sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by this email. Neither [parent company] KeyCorp nor Austin Capital Management authorized or condones the insensitive content of the email or its distribution. As all employee matters are confidential, we are unable to comment on details of this particular situation. Please be assured we take these matters very seriously, and are taking appropriate action."

Fuentes said Austin Capital Management executives have contacted him, confirmed that the email was sent from the company, apologized and requested a meeting with him.

“The email speaks for itself, and in our opinion, was incredibly racist. We felt like we had to make a statement,” Fuentes said. “Austin Capital Management’s Web site says [the company is] active in the community. They need to know the community they’re working in.”

Austin Capital Management made headlines earlier this spring when two law firms filed a class action lawsuit against the company over its role in the Bernard Madoff debacle.

Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP filed a suit in early April on behalf of investors in Austin Capital hedge funds during the period between Jan. 2, 2005 and Dec. 11, 2008. The suit seeks to recover losses resulting from Austin Capital’s placement of investors’ money into funds managed by confessed Ponzi-scheme organizer Madoff and his firm.

And in February, Philadelphia-based law firm Spector Roseman Kodroff & Willis filed a similar class action suit led by the Pension Fund for Hospital and Health Care Employees — Philadelphia and Vicinity and a group of similar funds.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Baptist pastor beaten + tazed by Border patrol - 11 stitches

I told them I was a US citizen.
I told them I was on a business trip.
I told them I had no drugs or humans in the car.

That wasn't enough. They wanted to search the car, and I invoked my 4th amendment rights.


I was IN the United States!!! I had crossed no international border!!!

This occured on the night of April 14/15, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

AP IMPACT: Citizens held as illegal immigrants

Associated Press Writer

Pedro Guzman has been an American citizen all his life. Yet in 2007, the 31-year-old Los Angeles native - in jail for a misdemeanor, mentally ill and never able to read or write - signed a waiver agreeing to leave the country without a hearing and was deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant.

For almost three months, Guzman slept in the streets, bathed in filthy rivers and ate out of trash cans while his mother scoured the city of Tijuana, its hospitals and morgues, clutching his photo in her hand. He was finally found trying to cross the border at Calexico, 100 miles away.

These days, back home in California, "He just changes from one second to another. His brain jumps back to when he was missing," said his brother, Michael Guzman. "We just talk to him and reassure him that everything is fine and nobody is going to hurt him."

In a drive to crack down on illegal immigrants, the United States has locked up or thrown out dozens, probably many more, of its own citizens over the past eight years. A monthslong AP investigation has documented 55 such cases, on the basis of interviews, lawsuits and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These citizens are detained for anything from a day to five years. Immigration lawyers say there are actually hundreds of such cases.

It is illegal to deport U.S. citizens or detain them for immigration violations. Yet citizens still end up in detention because the system is overwhelmed, acknowledged Victor Cerda, who left Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2005 after overseeing the system. The number of detentions overall is expected to rise by about 17 percent this year to more than 400,000, putting a severe strain on the enforcement network and legal system.

The result is the detention of citizens with the fewest resources: the mentally ill, minorities, the poor, children and those with outstanding criminal warrants, ranging from unpaid traffic tickets to failure to show up for probation hearings. Most at risk are Hispanics, who made up the majority of the cases the AP found.

"The more the system becomes confused, the more U.S. citizens will be wrongfully detained and wrongfully removed," said Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge who now teaches at Pepperdine Law School. "They are the symptom of a larger problem in the detention system. ... Nothing could be more regrettable than the removal of our fellow citizens."

Jim Hayes, ICE director of detention and removal, said he is aware of only 10 cases of U.S. citizens detained over the past five years. Even if combined with the cases found by the AP, "that's not an epidemic," Hayes said. He refused to identify any cases, citing privacy laws.

He added that agents investigate any claims to U.S. citizenship, but they often turn out to be false. He said U.S. citizens sometimes claim to be foreign-born, and that immigration officials never knowingly hold someone they can "definitively" determine is a citizen.

It's impossible to know exactly how many citizens have been detained or deported because nobody keeps track. Kara Hartzler, an attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, testified at a U.S. House hearing last year that her group alone sees 40 to 50 jailings a month of people with potentially valid claims to citizenship.

"These cases are surprisingly, painfully common," she said.

The nonprofit Vera Institute for Justice found 322 people with citizenship claims in 13 immigration prisons in 2007, up from 129 the year before. That number does not include possible citizens in the nation's more than 300 other immigration prisons.

What is clear is that immigration detentions - including those of citizens - have soared in recent years. One reason is a heightened concern for security that arose out of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Another is a political climate that encouraged a tough stance on illegal immigration, especially after Congress failed to pass immigration reform legislation almost three years ago.

After 2003, the nation launched several programs to detain more immigrants, including one that called on local police and sheriffs for help. Before 2007, just seven state and local law enforcement agencies worked with immigration. By last November, more than 950 officers from 23 states had attended a four-week program on how to root out and jail suspected illegal immigrants.

A Government Accountability Office investigation has since found that ICE did not ensure local officials properly used their authority and failed to collect data to assess the program. As a result, ICE is rewriting agreements with 67 agencies.

The program came under fire partly because it gives local officers so much leeway to decide who to stop. Almost one in 10 Hispanic adults born in the U.S. report that police or other authorities stopped them and asked about their immigration status in 2007, according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey of more than 2,000 people.


It was a local sheriff's office that sent Guzman out of the country.

He was picked up near his home in Lancaster, Calif., on March 31, 2007, by Los Angeles County sheriff's department officers on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. He had tried three times to board a private plane, showing lottery tickets for passage on one attempt, officers said in a report. He had also stolen a car and told officers his mother's car was broken.

A judge gave him three years' probation and three months in jail for vandalism.

At the jail, Guzman told officers he was born in California, a response noted in official records. But a sheriff's employee still got Guzman to sign an agreement to leave the country without a hearing.

On the day he arrived in Mexico, Guzman called a relative to say he didn't know where he was, and asked a passer-by. The answer: Tijuana. Then the phone cut off.

Guzman was finally returned to California legally in August 2007.

Now he can no longer stand the sun because it reminds him of Mexico. His family will not let him talk about the ordeal because it upsets him. He has frequent counseling sessions, but he is shaky, stutters and seems to hear voices, according to his brother.

"He is our brother, somebody's son, that they deported," said Michael Guzman. "California is like the main capital of Latin Americans. It doesn't matter whether you are a citizen or not. If you look Hispanic, they can question you. Deportation can happen to anybody."

Neither the sheriff's office nor immigration officials would discuss the case, citing pending litigation. The family has sued Los Angeles County and the federal government.

"When the whole story is told, people will see and understand what has occurred," said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.

In the meantime, Guzman's mother, Maria Carbajal, often works the graveyard shift at a Jack in the Box because she is afraid to leave him alone during the day.


American citizens also have been caught in the net of increased workplace arrests and jail sweeps.

Workplace arrests rose from 517 in fiscal year 2003 to 6,274 in 2008. Julie Myers, former Homeland Security assistant secretary overseeing ICE, said agents quickly sort out which workers are citizens during raids. She added that federal law, court decisions and search warrants give immigration agents the authority to enter workplaces to question everyone inside, including citizens.

But the raids have already led to several lawsuits.

In 2007, 114 U.S. citizens and permanent residents sued after a raid on Micro Solutions Enterprises, a computer printer equipment recycler in Van Nuys, Calif. They alleged illegal detention and sought $5,000 damage each.

In 2008, the union representing workers at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants sued on behalf of eight citizens and legal residents caught up in raids.

In one case, three citizens and nine others, all Hispanic, sued after ICE agents raided their New Jersey homes as part of what was dubbed Operation Return To Sender. The lawsuit alleges that an immigration agent pulled a gun on one of the citizens, a 9-year-old boy.

A program to sweep jails and deport immigrants who have committed crimes is more popular. But critics fear the temptation is to deport anyone for anything because they are seen as bad seeds, even if they are American citizens.


Rennison Castillo arrived early at the Seattle immigration office on Oct. 28, 1998, to take his citizenship oath. He was dressed in a freshly starched Army uniform and was eager to grab a good seat. He sat in the second row.

Born in Belize, Castillo had lived in the U.S. since he was 7 and had served two years in the Army. But his superiors told him he could not stay in the Army without citizenship. So he took the citizenship test and passed easily, missing only one question, on the name of a locally elected official.

"I felt pretty good. I felt I definitely accomplished something, because having a citizenship to the United States was something that I felt proud of," Castillo said.

Seven years later, the U.S. government locked Castillo in a Tacoma, Wash., immigration jail. He had been picked up at the Pierce County jail, where he had spent eight months for violating a restraining order and for residential burglary.

At the holding cell, an officer asked if he wanted to go home. He thought she meant his home in Lakewood, Wash. "Yes," he answered. "I'd love to go home."

She chained him up and told him he would be deported.

Over and over, Castillo said, he told officers he was a citizen. He pleaded with them to check their computer files.

But officials said nothing in their records confirmed his citizenship or his military service. One officer actually recognized Castillo from their Army days at Fort Lewis, Wash., and mentioned their battalion, but told Castillo he couldn't help.

Then Castillo saw a number posted on the wall for the Northwest Immigration Rights Project. On the group's advice, he contacted a friend who pulled his military document from the trunk of his car.

Nearly eight months after he was transferred to ICE custody, Castillo was released. He discovered that immigration officials had two files on him, with different numbers, and has since filed a lawsuit. ICE declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.

"I understand that nothing is perfect, nothing will be perfect, but I don't understand how they could make a grave mistake like that," he said. "Because if this happened to me, I'm quite sure it's happened to somebody else. What's going to happen to the next person it happens to?"


For Ricardo Martinez, born in McAllen, Texas, it was not being able to get back into his own country.

Even though he was a U.S. citizen, Martinez lived in Mexico between the ages of 5 and 17.

Like many border residents with family on the other side, he made frequent trips to Mexico. When he tried to return to the U.S. after a visit to Mexico in July 1999, he was turned away by border officers at Nogales, Ariz., because two copies of his birth certificate, issued years apart, had different hospital registration dates. Not proficient in English, Martinez said he had never noticed the error.

Told to get his documents in order, he got a U.S. passport and was able to get into the country. But the problem was not over.

In January 2006, he went back to Mexico to be with his dying grandmother. When he tried to cross back at Laredo, Texas, in March, he carried his birth certificates, his birth registration card, his passport and state ID cards from Nebraska, California and Texas, where he had worked.

But by that time border security had become far stricter. Agents looked up Martinez in their database and found the earlier problem at Nogales. They claimed his U.S. passport was fake, he said.

Martinez was taken to an inspection room, forced to remove his shoes, searched, handcuffed to a chair and held for two hours while officers questioned his documents, he said. He was told unless he confessed to fraud, he would be sent to prison for six to eight months, according to a court document filed in Martinez's lawsuit against the government.

"They told me if I didn't say I was from over there, they would put me in jail. I was frightened," Martinez said.

He said he asked to call his mother to help prove his citizenship, but was refused.

Martinez's stepfather, Florentino Mireles, said in a Feb. 27, 2008, affidavit that he called border inspectors to ask why they had taken Martinez's documents. The response, he said: An officer didn't believe Martinez was a U.S. citizen because he didn't speak English.

Afraid of jail, Martinez signed the papers. In an affidavit in his lawsuit, Martinez said he didn't understand that by signing he was admitting to not being born in the U.S.

It took his parents two years to find an affordable attorney. Finally, at a meeting in Hidalgo, attorney Lisa Brodyaga showed border officers a copy of Martinez' birth certificate from his parents that included his footprints and a thumbprint and tax records showing he had worked legally in the U.S. Officials agreed he was a U.S. citizen and allowed him to cross the border.

Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, declined comment because Martinez has sued. In court filings, the agency said Martinez denied being physically assaulted or subjected to excessive force and never filed a complaint against the officers.

Brodyaga said the cases of U.S. citizens detained or deported show more than bureaucratic bungling.

"I've been doing this for 30 years and I've seen bureaucratic bungling. This is more than that," she said. "This is an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility, particularly for Mexican-Americans on the border."


Associated Press staff writers Traci Carl and Peter Prengaman contributed to this report.

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Source: Associated Press

Press Release: LULAC Applauds New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson For Signing HB 428, Prohibiting Racial Profiling In The State.

New Mexico will join 23 other states in banning profiling practices by law enforcement officers and agencies.

April 8, 2009

For more information contact:
Lizette Jenness Olmos, (202) 365-4553 mobile

Washington, DC - The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Hispanic civil rights organization, is pleased that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed House Bill 428 into law accompanied by LULAC leadership in Santa Fe yesterday.

“The new law makes it illegal for law enforcement officers to investigate anyone relying solely on the person's race, ethnicity, color or national origin among a list of other things," said LULAC National President Rosa Rosales. "We hope other states will follow in banning racial profiling."

"Forty five years ago the Civil Rights Act was passed yet in America the struggle for equality and justice continues to this day,” said LULAC Vice President for the Southwest Ray Mancera. "Thanks to State Rep. Nathan Cote, sponsor of the bill, and Governor Bill Richardson for signing it into law, New Mexico stands tall for passage of this bill banning bias based profiling!"

"This will send a strong message to communities like Roswell and Chaparral that racial profiling is unacceptable and has no place in the state of New Mexico," said LULAC New Mexico State Director Pablo Martinez. "The Roswell Mayor and Chief of Police have placed the Hispanic community in fear by implementing such egregious policies that not only promote and condone racial profiling, but encourage the victimization of immigrants because most of these immigrants will be discouraged to report crimes in fear of reprisal and deportation. Roswell's current practice is bad policy. With this new law in effect, in communities like Roswell and Chaparral, there will be some light at the end of the tunnel."

"This is a positive step in the right direction by prohibiting discriminatory practices against people of color. We thank Representative Nathan Cote, the New Mexico Legislature and Governor Bill Richardson for making a strong effort to end a practice that has caused poor race relations with law enforcement agencies," said LULAC National President for Youth Jessica I. Martinez."This will set a major milestone not only in the state of New Mexico but throughout the nation. It proves New Mexico is a leader when it comes to promoting positive race relations in the entire country."

The bill also allows for oversight and investigation of profiling complaints by the Attorney General's office.

The League of United Latin American Citizens advances the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health, housing and civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-based programs operating at more than 700 LULAC councils nationwide.

Source: LULAC

Friday, April 03, 2009

Police: 14 killed in N.Y. rampage - Gunman blocks back door, opens fire at immigrant offices in Binghamton

A law enforcement official checks vehicles in a parking lot behind the American Civic Association in Binghamton, N.Y., where a gunman opened fire Friday, killing 13 people and himself.

NBC News and news services
updated 50 minutes ago

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - A gunman walked into an immigrant services center and opened fire on Friday, killing 13 people before he killed himself, police said. Another four people were in critical condition.

The suspected gunman carried identification with the name of 42-year-old Jiverly Voong of nearby Johnson City, N.Y., a law enforcement official said. But the name is an alias that the man has used in the past, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and was talking on condition of anonymity.

"It obviously was premeditated," said Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski, noting the gunman blocked the rear exit with his car. "He made sure nobody could escape."

Earlier, the number of dead had been variously put at 12 to 16 by Gov. David Paterson and law enforcement officials.

At a news conference, Zikuski said a receptionist who was the first person shot survived by pretending she was dead, and was able to call 911. Another receptionist was killed.

The gunman then moved to a room inside the American Civic Association and shot dead 12 people before killing himself, Zikuski said. A man found with ammunition around his neck was believed to be the gunman, he added.

As soon as the shooting started, 26 people hid in the boiler room and by the end of the siege 37 people were safely removed from the building, Zikuski said.

Zikuski said police were still trying to confirm the name of the gunman, but had reason to believe he was "no stranger" to the immigrant services center.

Gov. Paterson said he spoke for all of New York in offering "my prayers for the victims and families of this tragedy," which began when the gunman used his car to block the back door of the services center, walked in the front door and opened fire.

Laid off IBM employee?
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, whose district includes Binghamton, said the gunman appears to have been a man who was recently let go from IBM in Johnson City.

Mayor Matthew Ryan initially said the gunman had a high-powered rifle but law-enforcement sources later told NBC that he had actually used two handguns.

The receptionist who called 911 described the gunman as a man in his 20s between 5 feet, 8 inches, and 6 feet tall, wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses.

Police locked down a nearby high school and advised local business owners to stay inside.

Binghamton, with a population around 45,000, is about 150 miles northwest of New York City. The American Civic Association helps immigrants in the area with naturalization applications, counseling, resettlement, citizenship, family reunification and translators.

Mary Pat Hyland, who teaches classes at the center, told MSNBC that many of the immigrants served there are from Vietnam and Laos. "We have a very diverse ethnic area," she said.

The association’s president, Angela Leach, “is very upset right now,” said Mike Chanecka, a friend who answered a call at her home as Leach wept in the background.

“She doesn’t know anything; she’s as shocked as anyone,” Chanecka said. “For some reason, she had the day off today. And she’s very worried about her secretary.”

Redeemer Lutheran Church in Binghamton planned a prayer vigil on Friday night for those affected by the shooting.

Source: MSNBC