Pin It

Mario Benitez has lived in America, legally, since he was three years old. He lived most of his life in Chicago, a sanctuary city where it’s virtually impossible to be handed over to ICE. All of that didn’t matter and in September 2011 Benitez, now 42, boarded a bus headed for Mexico. He was beginning the long ride that carries out punishment when you’re deported.

Benitez wasn’t being deported for his immigration status per se, rather what a felony criminal conviction did to his legal status. Yet, the Obama administration considers him a higher priority in the immigration court system than an illegal alien, as long as that illegal alien has no further criminal history. The deficiencies of the Obama immigration policies have been well documented; less well documented is the fact that deportations have skyrocketed, especially among criminals, under the Obama DHS over its predecessor George Bush. Benitez’s story, and others like his, provides the backdrop for a much larger story, one of Obama’s immigration policy and the blowback it causes.

According to Isaul Verdin, a veteran immigration attorney who practices out of Dallas, the Obama White House has made it so that all those with criminal complaints became a high priority for deportation, while anyone with no criminal record became a lower priority.  Having a family and steady employment (even if it was gained illegally), would make one an even lower priority.  This puts the focus of the immigration policy on criminal non-citizens. That’s the category Benitez found himself in.

In fact, that’s the directive, says Verdin, of the recently released memo from John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The headline of the memo, released this past June to great fanfare and controversy, was the inclusion of what’s referred to as “prosecutorial discretion,” which called for releasing and no longer pursuing anyone that doesn’t have a criminal history.

Buried in the memo were ICE’s continued intentions to pursue, with the full force of the office, all those with criminal histories. So far, the Obama administration has done that quite well.  Deportations of criminals have increased in the Obama administration by 89% over the Bush administration, according to what DHS told CNN recently, and Obama has increased deportations overall by 10% over Bush’s best year.

As the Daily Caller recently reported, “Secure Communities,” the program that is the centerpiece of Obama’s tough new deportation policies, has been criticized by liberal activist groups throughout the country for a number of things, including its cozy relationship with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Several state and municipalities throughout the country have revolted. Three governors: Patrick in Massachusetts, Quinn in Illinois, and Cuomo in New York, said their states wouldn’t comply. In Cook County, where Benitez lived most of his life, the County board recently took radical action that not only would have assured someone like Benitez would never be deported, but also that many dangerous criminals would be let out on the streets, totally out of sight of ICE.

The ICE Detainer program gives ICE up to two business days to come and pick up an inmate in a municipal jail for a criminal matter; ICE flags them if they’ve otherwise posted bond or finished their prison sentence.  A detainer is the most likely result of anyone flagged by the Secure Communities program.

To protest Secure Communities, the Cook County Board passed an ordinance this past September in which it declared the County would no longer cooperate with the ICE detainer program unless ICE agreed to pay for the extra costs. The board claimed erroneously that the program cost the County annually $15 million, when the cost was really closer to $250,000.

A report by the Chicago Sun Times revealed that one prisoner released as a result of this law was Eduardo Sanchez. According to a police report, Sanchez drove through a red light and then punched and kicked police officers who attempted to arrest him. Sanchez was already living in the country illegally, and ICE placed a detainer on Sanchez. As such, once his criminal case was settled, he would be turned over to immigration authorities. Because of this new ordinance, Sanchez has been released after he posted bond. ICE won’t get a chance to detain him and it will be virtually impossible, as long as Sanchez remains in Chicago, for him to ever be deported.  The Daily Herald reported that three other criminal illegals who allegedly hit a cop in suburban Hanover Park were also released under this program and will almost certainly not be deported because of this.

In San Francisco County, the County has a milder version of the Cook County ordinance. There, the Sheriff’s office has discretion and if they don’t believe someone is a danger to the community, the sheriff won’t comply with the detainer. According to an Associated Press story, in California’s Santa Clara County they were also on the verge of passing a measure similar to Cook County but got cold feet when they saw Cook County actually did it. They now plan to wait and see how it works out in Cook County.

That leaves Benitez.  He was born in Mexico but moved legally with his family to Chicago when he was three years old. While the rest of the family eventually became legal citizens Benitez stayed a permanent legal resident alien, first out of convenience, and then laziness.  He lived in Chicago all throughout his childhood and for more than a decade while in the business world.

Eventually, however, Benitez moved out to Florida and began working as a mortgage broker. He lived in Palm Beach County, an area known for being tough on crime. Benitez became a mortgage broker, and, like many at the time, did well because we were at the height of the boom. He got a girlfriend who eventually became his fiancée. Then, in 2007-2008, the mortgage market tanked. His business got crushed. Then, his fiancé broke up with him, his income was cut substantially, and he developed a drinking problem.  One day, he’d had too many and came to the idea that because his neighbor had borrowed money but hadn’t yet paid him back, he would make that collection right that minute. When his neighbor wasn’t home, Benitez broke in, found a change jar, stole that, and deposited all that change in his own bank.

When he woke up the next morning, he had a massive hangover but he also found a deposit slip for about $130. By the end of the day, cops had apprehended him. He was booked and though he cooperated throughout, the DA’s office refused to deal, demanding a prison sentence of twenty-two months. That’s exactly what Judge David Dugan gave him in January 2009.  Had Benitez committed the exact same crime in Cook County, he would have likely received a prison sentence that was significantly lower–and that would have been important. In fact, because he served more than a year in prison, he automatically qualified to be deported. His only hope would have been for Palm Beach County, where his crime occurred, to reduce his sentence after he’d already served to less than a year.

That’s because, says Verdin, of a law that was first passed in the Clinton administration and is now enforced with fervor in the Obama administration, the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996,” or IIRIRA. Because Benitez had been found guilty of two “crimes of moral turpitude,” the break-in and the theft, and he was not a citizen, he would have to be deported.  Immigration judges no longer had any discretion in such a case.

Of his deportation, Benitez spoke exclusively with Rebel Pundit, saying, “The timing wasn’t great. Right now, the imperative was getting the criminals without knowing the details.” Benitez admitted, “I understand it’s hard to generate much sympathy for someone like me,” continuing, “after all, I committed a crime.”

While Benitez did commit this heinous crime, he also experienced a remarkable journey in prison. It included teaching mysticism to murderers, staving off numerous attempts at deportation with the help of a triple murderer turned law clerk, and winding up in the hole because he tried to break up a fight. All of this could have eloquently been uttered by Benitez in front of an immigration judge if that judge had any discretion.

Benitez said he would spend almost a year and a half fighting his deportation always ultimately finding out that immigration judges had no leeway. In fact, he would serve nearly as much time being held by immigration as he had for his criminal incarceration.  Ironically enough, it was his ability to produce minor victories in court that kept him locked up as long as he did.

Verdin explained the complexities of the case, “here where I work in Houston, the federal court had interpreted IIRIRA (pronounced “i-RAI-ruh” by pros like him) completely differently than in Florida. Here, we were given much more leeway. Had the crime been committed in Houston, I would have been able to approach the defense completely differently.”

Verdin explained that within the last couple months, a federal court in Florida did interpret IIRIRA the way they did in Texas, but it ultimately still didn’t save Benitez. Verdin also explained that the definition of “moral turpitude,” the concept that ultimately doomed Benitez, is also interpreted vastly differently across regions.

Once immigration has you detained, that lock-up is indefinite. All inmates are incarcerated until a judge gives them a bond or their case is adjudicated a manner that grants them release. Until then, they remain locked up even as immigration proceedings are scheduled months apart. Finally Benitez said he gave up saying, “I was not going to win, and I just wanted my freedom.”

A bitter Benitez remarks, “In 1996, a judge could take a look and have that discretion. Right now, judges don’t have that discretion. It’s cookie cutter.”

Benitez is referring to IIRIRA.

Benitez is not the only out there like this. He’s an unconventional target of the Obama administration in its immigration policy. Another is Terry Brazeau. Brazeau is a graduate of Yale. He’s spent more than two decades successfully trading all sorts of derivatives both on Wall Street as well as throughout the United States. He’s a Canadian foreign national and was a permanent resident alien of the United States.

He also had a number of run-ins with the authorities that he says are misunderstandings. ICE didn’t see it that way and after not paying for a restaurant bill for the second time in his time in the USA, ICE flagged him, arguing he was a criminal of moral turpitude. Because he was a Canadian foreign national, a permanent resident alien, he also became a target of Obama’s immigration policies. He was a non-resident who was also regarded as a criminal of moral turpitude. It should be noted that the new boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend once also complained about Brazeau.

Brazeau, also speaking exclusively with Rebel Pundit, says he still has business interests in the U.S. but he’s not allowed to cross the border to be able to remove money from his account.  Brazeau said, “I need a 212 Waiver,” in order to get at his own funds. He continues about the frustration of getting one, “the red tape that they’ve thrown at me for someone who provides employment to Americans…and only has 3 misdemeanors on his record after 24 yrs!!!”

No case is more bizarre than that of Robert Niedermeier, a detainee that was housed with Benitez for a few months at KROME Detention Facility in Miami. According to Niedermeier, who said he was a German oil executive, he was in the U.S. on business. He said that after a snafu at his hotel with his credit card, he was incarcerated on grand larceny. While things were worked out eventually with the hotel, Niedermeier said that he was eventually handed off to ICE. Niedermeier was moved last year from KROME to another facility and got lost in the system  Benitez said that Niedermeier was deported early 2011.

Niedermeier said he was the principle at a company called Norpac. The website WikiCorporation lists him as its CEO as of October 2011. Niedermeier said he was in the states to buy a company called KC Oil, a set of about fifteen gas stations in New Jersey. Niedermeier estimated that the deal would have closed between $35-$40 million. It died because of the detention though Niedermeier said that he attempted in vain for months to try and coordinate a deal from the detention facility.

Niedermeier said that in Europe he owns about sixty gas stations in three countries: Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland. Niedermeier said he hoped to build a bigger oil company here in America than he had in Europe, but that’s no longer possible because Niedermeier won’t be able to come back here for at least ten years from the date he was deported.

A lifelong resident of the US, a graduate of Yale, and an oil executive–these are all unusual individuals that faced deportation from America. Should our system be prioritizing their deportation over others?

Take the poll, poll closes 1/5/2012 6pm CST.


3 Responses

  1. The Truth

    Mr. Volpe: You should have at least looked up Brazeau’s criminal history before writing this! Not only does Brazeau have an unresolved DUI in Florida, he was also arrested several times for violating a restraining order (which had to be obtained because of battery charges), which eventually lead to charges of felony stalking. Not only that, he also has unresolved charges of sexual battery in Hawaii. He has no money in the US, employs no one, and hasn’t worked in years and can’t hold a job because he is an alcoholic with serious mental issues. Who cares if he graduated from Yale, he does nothing with that degree.

    • Michael Volpe

      Not for nothing but I actually did include all the alleged incidents you claim. I think you ought to read the article more carefully.

  2. The Truth

    I read the article very carefully and you failed to mention very key points as to why he was deported. You never once mention he had two restraining orders against him, you failed to mention he was charged with felony stalking, you left out the reasons why he was deported but found it necessary to mention he chewed and screwed a couple times? The U.S. is better without him here!