2nd chance or trip home await Oakdale inmates

June 21, 1993|By Ann LoLordo

When the Immigration and Naturalization Service caught up with Tadusz Choinowski, he had fought one too many brawls after one too many drinks and landed in a Maryland prison.

The INS slapped a detainer on him and when Mr. Choinowski finished his one-year prison sentence last May, the immigration agency loaded the Polish native onto a bus to a federal detention facility in Oakdale, La., where he is awaiting a deportation hearing.

A wiry man with a thick accent, Mr. Choinowski last week asked an immigration judge to reduce his $20,000 bail so he could wait at home. The 45-year-old laborer has lived and worked in Baltimore since entering the country in 1979 on a tourist visa. An aunt lives in Dundalk, he said.

The immigration service says Mr. Choinowski should be deported because his previous crimes, which date back to 1986, involve "moral turpitude." They include minor assaults, battery, theft, probation violations and escape.

"You just can't come to the United States on a visitor's visa and stay for the rest of your life," said Judge Charles A. Weigand III, who denied the bail request.

Mr. Choinowski, who did not have a lawyer, told the judge his troubles began when he started to drink. He said he paid money to a lawyer to get a "green card," the document that attests to permanent legal residence as an alien. But he never got it.

He has not been back to Poland since he left and has spoken little with his former wife and two children there. "If I can get legal paper, I want to stay [in the United States]," Mr. Choinowski said.

Wants to be deported

It was Carlos Sanchez-Gomez's time to speak. The 53-year-old Colombia national told the immigration judge, through an interpreter, "I would like to be deported."

His case seemed classic: In July 1987, Sanchez-Gomez entered the country illegally in California. Two years later, in New York, he was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine, a deportable crime. His arrest was part of a federal investigation of Colombia nationals who manufactured drugs on an upstate New York dairy farm.

"It is the order of the court for you to be deported to Colombia. Is that agreeable?" Judge R. Kevin McHugh asked.

"Yes," replied the convicted drug dealer.

He had little choice but to accept. While Sanchez-Gomez has the right to fight deportation, the law provides little or no relief for illegal immigrants who have no family or job here and are not seeking political asylum. So, like several other cases heard on this particular day, the matter concludes swiftly -- in less than 10 minutes.

When his federal prison sentence ends in August, Sanchez-Gomez will get a one-way ticket home.

Lucky man

Fredesvindo Barcos-Cruz, a native of Colombia, has lived in the United States since he was 6. A 10th-grade dropout, he worked steadily and attended a Florida community college to learn to be an air-conditioning repairman.

But when he lost $5,000 in savings trying to start his own business, Mr. Barcos-Cruz, down on his luck, accepted an offer to ferry a suitcase of cocaine to Washington. Police stopped him even before he got on the train.

Last week, he stood before an immigration judge at Oakdale and asked for a second chance. While in Florida's prison system, he got his high school equivalency diploma, entered a self-help program, worked on an inmate air-conditioning crew and attended church every Sunday. And after Hurricane Andrew tore through his prison, Mr. Barcos-Cruz volunteered to rebuild it.

Through it all, "I learned how stupid I was and the mistake I made," he told immigration Judge John A. Duck Jr.

After listening to Mr. Barcos-Cruz's wife and invalid father ask for mercy, the judge ruled that Mr. Barcos-Cruz had "demonstrated genuine rehabilitation" and could remain in this country.

With that, the slight, dark-haired man quietly wept. The same day, he was released from the the Oakdale facility to return to his family in Florida.

"He is one of the lucky ones," said L. Jerome Lahey, Mr. Barcos-Cruz's lawyer.

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