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Latin America
Women & Children at Risk
Title:  Smuggled Peruvians Face Deportation
  Tell judge they're the same as 59 other victims granted the right to remain in U.S.
Publisher:  (c) 2004 Newsday, Inc.
Author: John Moreno Gonzales
Publish Date:  2004-07-10

Two Peruvian immigrants who say they were held in indentured servitude by a human trafficking ring now face possible deportation, though they told an immigration judge Friday they are no different than 59 other victims who have been granted the right to remain in the United States.

The two men were charged Friday with entering the country illegally and elected to begin what could be months of proceedings to determine if they have the right to asylum. They will continue to be jailed at Wackenhut Detention Facility in Jamaica, Queens a private center supervised by U.S. immigration officials, where their hearing was held.

U.S. Attorney Bonnie Klapper said the men were sent to Wackenhut because they had told immigration agents they had only been in the country for a few days and their short stays limited the amount of information they could provide to the government's case.

"Their lives are at stake, and to some extent they are in the hands of what BICE [Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement] does and what the U.S. attorney does," their Manhattan lawyer, Daniel Green, said. He said his clients feared they could be targeted by cells of the ring in Peru if deported.

The two men seeking asylum are among a total of six alleged victims sent to Wackenhut days after the suspected ring was discovered last month. A third was undecided Friday as to what relief he will seek, a fourth volunteered to return to Peru and the fifth and sixth had already volunteered to return to their homeland.

Their treatment stands in contrast to 59 other victims of the ring that were allegedly held captive in three crowded homes on Long Island. Those men, women and children have been kept in safe houses as potential witnesses, and have been granted the right to live in the United States while they apply for permanent residency, Klapper said.

Klapper added that the Wackenhut detainees also appeared to have overstayed their visas.

Immigration agents in the case would not comment Friday. But at the hearing, one detainee told Judge Steven Abrams that he only overstayed his visa because the traffickers confiscated his passport to keep him from fleeing. The documents were supplied by his captors, he said.

"Mariluz, she had my passport," detainee Antonio Valle told the court, referring to alleged trafficker Mariluz Zavala. "We couldn't leave until we paid her the money we owed."

Pablo Rios, another detainee at Wackenhut seeking asylum, said Friday that he lived in the Brentwood house controlled by the traffickers for a year and that immigration agents did not translate documents that they had him sign. Rios, 44, said in a telephone interview last week that he paid accused traffickers Zavala and José Ibañez $12,500 to provide him a tourist visa.

A third man, Dave Vega, told the court that he too lived at the Brentwood property for a year and that the alleged traffickers provided his visa; though he admitted to telling immigration agents that he lived in the house briefly. Green said Vega, 20, lied because he feared the repercussions of using a smuggler.

During the hearing Friday, Abrams said, "looks like somewhere along the the line, the service screwed up."

Still, Vega did not seek asylum and volunteered to be removed to Peru, where his wife awaits his return.

A fourth Peruvian, Henry Ramirez, was the only man to fit the profile that prosecutors offered. He verified that he had only briefly lived in one of the houses controlled by the traffickers. However, he did not volunteer to return to Peru, and Green is evaluating whether he too has a case for asylum.

Klapper said she would contact immigration agents in the case to clear up discrepancies between their interviews and the men's court statements.

"There are certain criteria that have to be met to qualify as a victim," Klapper added. "One would be honesty with law enforcement." The men will return to court on July 30.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.