Salon March 17, 2013 by Valeria Fernandez
Activists are denouncing state lawmakers for charging immigrants with felonies to ensure their deportation.
PHOENIX–Ivon Matamoros has been packing most of her baby daughter’s clothes and blankets to start a reluctant journey back to Mexico. Matamoros, 24, could be among hundreds of youth who qualify for a deportation reprieve under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But she didn’t apply.
Matamoros didn’t think she would qualify because she has a felony on her record — for working with false documents as a cashier and buser at a Pei Wei chain restaurant.
An immigration judge told her this was a “crime of moral turpitude” and that she would have to leave. He gave her a date to do so, willingly: March 21.
“The judge said it reflected badly on my character,” said Matamoros. “If I didn’t have that felony, I would have been able to qualify for DACA.”
As discussions ramp up in Congress to come up with a federal comprehensive immigration reform bill, pro-immigrant groups and attorneys in Arizona are denouncing the raids and prosecutions of workers like Matamoros, which could hurt their chances of becoming documented residents.
Most immigration reform proposals exclude people with criminal records; millions of workers currently using false documents to work on the United States could lose out if they get arrested.
Matamoros was among hundreds of unauthorized workers in Maricopa County who ended up in deportation proceedings as a result of business worksite raids carried out by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Workers in her situation are being charged with multiple counts of identity theft, typically a Class 4 felony, and offered plea bargains to a lower charge, such as “taking the identity of another,” a Class 6 violation.
“Maricopa County is the only county that is doing these raids. They don’t have to do these raids–that is immigration’s job,” said Carlos Garcia, director of Puente, a pro-immigrant and human rights organization in Phoenix.
Puente organized a march this week to protest Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for prosecuting these cases and charging undocumented workers with felonies that can lead to their deportation.
“Immigration reform starts at home,” Garcia stated. “If we don’t stop Arpaio and Bill Montgomery, the people from the 71 raids are never going to be able to obtain citizenship or any other legal status in the country because of the felonies.”