Papers easy to buy, say aliens 14 detainees released

one tells of fake work documents for $80

September 01, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- With $80 and a thirst for work, Mexican citizen Guadelupe Mendez landed a job deboning chicken breasts at an Eastern Shore poultry processing plant.

Mendez, one of the 107 suspected illegal immigrants detained in a sweep of two Allen Family Foods Inc. plants last week, simply bought fake work papers.

She won't say where she got them -- only "around here" -- and declined to give her real last name, but she talked openly about handing the papers to Allen officials when she applied for her $6.60-an-hour job a year ago at the Cordova plant.

"They checked my documents," the 23-year-old said. "But it looks just like everyone else's."

The card may have gotten her the job, but it also got her handcuffed and held at the Wicomico County Detention Center with scores of others for three days last week.

Yesterday, Mendez talked while sitting on the deck of the tumbledown home in Easton she shares with her sister and daughter. She was one of 14 people released Friday night by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on personal recognizance bonds.

Richard Caterisano, acting INS deputy district director, said the 14 were released because of personal situations -- Mendez had no one to care for her 1-year-old daughter -- and all have been ordered to appear at deportation hearings.

The INS on Friday deported 29 Mexicans detained in the raid; 64 remain at the detention center.

Caterisano acknowledged that fake documents are a problem, but he pointed to what he sees as companies turning a blind eye to the fraudulent paperwork.

In some cases, he said, the INS has found that employers "aren't looking at them at all the penalties aren't deterrent enough to go through what is required by law."

One social worker in Easton estimated that half the 100-plus Latinos whom she works with have fraudulent documentation.

Nicole Delgadillo, director of Peace of Christ, a group that works with the Latino community, said the most troubling thing is that fake documents raise false dreams. "It gives them hope they are going to be able to work here, and then things like this happen," she said, referring to the raids.

Delgadillo said Mendez initially was working legally at a Hooper's Island crab plant on a six-month contract approved through the U.S. Department of Labor. But when the six months were over, Mendez -- a native of San Luis Potosi, Mexico -- wanted to stay in the country, so she got fake papers and landed her job at Allen.

In Mexico, Mendez said, "everyone says, 'The U.S. The U.S.' You imagine lots of good things."

Many others from Central America have made their way to the Allen plant in recent years.

At his Easton home, 35-year-old Dagoberto Morales proudly hangs the employee-of-the-month plaque he received from Allen two years ago for his work cleaning the chicken-plucking machines.

Seven years ago, Morales -- who works from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- left his home of Ticisate in southern Guatemala without telling his parents a word. "I didn't want to worry them," he said.

It took him two weeks to reach the United States by bus, cargo trains and in the trunks of cars.

Morales, who says he now has a work permit through a political asylum program, spent six days on cargo trains eating sardines and tortillas to make it to the Mexican border.

From there, a "coyote" -- someone who smuggles immigrants across the border for money -- sneaked him past the border patrol and hid him in a San Diego house for two days with 80 other illegal immigrants.

After being driven to Los Angeles in the trunk of a car, Morales spent another two days in a house until his cousin could scrape up $400 to pay the coyote, who wanted $600 initially but was bargained down. "If the family doesn't pay," he said, "they take you back to Mexico."

Two years later, he heard about work at the Allen plant from a relative and he went to Easton. The work is good, he said, and his salary of $7.92 an hour allows him a comfortable home, where pictures of his daughter -- still in Guatemala -- hang on the walls.

Francisco Perez, another Allen employee, came from Guatemala four years ago. He now supervises people at the plant who hang up chickens to be processed.

Perez, who says he has official documentation, said he did not know if more people at the plant had fake documents than those already detained.

The majority of his 37-member shift has either been detained or deported in the last raid. "Now," he said, "I only have five."

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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