Disputing claims made by two illegal immigrants in detention, officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service say they gave full notice of legal rights to 40 illegals discovered this month after a truck crash near a Bay Bridge toll plaza.
Genaro Cux-Garcia of Guatemala and Tomas Reyes Cruz of Mexico, both of whom were on the truck, said in separate interviews that INS officials did not tell them they could hire attorneys for free. In addition, the two said they were not offered a list of local services providing free legal advice, as is required by INS regulations.
But Thomas E. Perryman, a supervisory special INS agent who handled the case, said the two men were informed of their rights in Spanish -- orally and in writing.
He also said an INS officer carefully went over all legal options in Spanish with Mr. Cux-Garcia, who has a second-grade education and whose first language is a Mayan Indian dialect.
"I understand why they're doing it," Mr. Perryman said of the immigrants, but denied their contention.
INS has launched deportation proceedings against the 40 illegals -- 39 in the back of the truck plus one driver. Such proceedings are common in cases where illegal immigrants are subjects or witnesses in a criminal investigation, immigration lawyers said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating whether a smuggling ring was behind the transportation of the illegals from Arizona to companies in the Delmarva peninsula.
The initiation of deportation proceedings will buy that office more time in its investigation.
Over recent days, Mr. Perryman said that all 40 immigrants had waived their right to a hearing in hopes that they would be returned quickly to their home countries, Guatemala and Mexico.
But the initiation of deportation proceedings will keep them in the country longer.
Some also may face charges or be witnesses in the case, officials said.
Most waive rights
In general, Mr. Perryman said, most illegals waive their rights so they can return to their countries and try to cross the border again.
If proceedings continue and they are formally deported, any who attempt a return to the United States can be charged with a felony, he said.
Lynne Battaglia, the U.S. attorney, refused to comment yesterday on any aspect of the case.
In an interview Thursday at the Howard County Detention Center, Mr. Cux-Garcia recalled how he left his tiny home in Zacualpa to find work in the United States and make money to support his wife and two young daughters.
He said he fought hunger, cold and fatigue during a monthlong journey through mountains, deserts and rivers to Chandler, Ariz.
There, he and other suspected illegal immigrants boarded a Ryder truck, with promise of work on the East Coast, he said.
Mr. Cux-Garcia said he thought he was heading to a construction job in Virginia. Mr. Cruz said he was told the truck was on its way to Florida.
But while Mr. Cux-Garcia told The Sun that he paid for passage on the truck, he told investigators no transaction was involved, Mr. Perryman said. The INS official said he thought Mr. Cux-Garcia had lied to investigators and told journalists the truth.
In interviews, some immigration rights' advocates questioned the INS' commitment to informing illegals about their rights.
Perche Rivas, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Community of Maryland in Hyattsville, said through a spokesman that he was aware of other cases in which lists of legal services were not passed on to aliens.
Hispanic groups should unite to push the agency to enforce its regulations uniformly, Mr. Rivas said.
Paul Grussendorf, a George Washington University law professor, said INS officials "can run roughshod" over suspected illegal immigrants "in terms of what things they tell them."
George Washington's legal clinic is one of nine resources named on the legal services list, which also includes the Washington Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Catholic Charities Legal Services in Baltimore.
But Mr. Grussendorf, who works at the clinic, said he repeatedly has asked to be removed from the list because representing detainees in Maryland takes too much time. He and other officials for groups on the list said the INS makes it difficult for attorneys to speak with them.
Often, attorneys are forced to go to the Eastern Shore or take collect phone calls from their clients -- costly prospects for lawyers doing work for free.
"I think it's fair to say we've had some access problems in terms of being able to reach and have contact with clients," said Michael Millemann, director of the clinical law program at the University of Maryland.
Mark Horak, an immigration lawyer with Catholic Charities in Baltimore, said that while there is room for improvement, the INS "has been very helpful to us."
The INS says it does its best to accommodate lawyers who take immigrants' cases on a pro bono basis, but has a limited amount of space to hold detainees.