Three Get 24 Years in Prison for
Smuggling, Holding Aliens

HOUSTON, Texas — Three of six Hondurans convicted of hostage taking and alien smuggling were each sentenced February 4 to more than 24 years in prison following an investigation by ICE.

Jose Marlon Ibarra-Zelaya, 26, Jose Efrain Linares-Tabora, 27, and Marvin Arturo Peralta-Ramirez, 23, were the first three sentenced after six men were convicted in October in federal court on hostage taking and alien smuggling. The three others – Edy Guardado-Mezen, Henry Gutierrez-Andrade, and Elbin Geovanny-Mezen – are scheduled to be sentenced in March.

“We are pleased with today’s sentences,” said Joseph R. Webber, special agent-in-charge for the ICE Houston office. “We’ve seen a recent escalation in violence in smuggling cases, a trend that places our communities in danger. We will use every available tool at our disposal to combat these violent encounters.”

During a six-day trial last year, the government disclosed that a 911 call made March 12 reported that several illegal aliens were being held at gunpoint inside an apartment. Houston police set up surveillance and noticed a vehicle matching the description from the phone call. Police stopped the driver and discovered that none of the occupants had proper identification.

When police escorted Griselda Barnica-Magariegoz, 25, to an apartment to retrieve her identification, officers noticed several people running to a back bedroom and contacted ICE for assistance. When ICE special agents arrived on scene, 15 undocumented aliens were arrested along with six smugglers. Some aliens had been able to escape through a bathroom window before ICE agents arrived. ICE agents also recovered several weapons from the toilet tank inside the bathroom.

According to ICE special agents, many of the undocumented aliens identified the defendants as the perpetrators who burst into an apartment with pistols and forced all the aliens to get into waiting vehicles. These smugglers had stolen a smuggling load from rival smugglers. The smuggled aliens were then transported to another apartment located on Greens Parkway.

Witnesses also identified Edy Guardado-Mezen as the smuggler who had placed a gun to the head of a rival female smuggler and robbed her of $5,000. After the smuggled aliens arrived in Houston, the six defendants took the group of 15 undocumented aliens to the Greens Parkway apartment in several vehicles.

The remaining defendants, Edy Guadardo-Mezen, Henry Gutierrez-Andrade, and Albin Geovanny-Mezen will be sentenced in March. Each faces up to life in prison without parole.

Griselda Barnica-Magariegoz was convicted of harboring and transporting illegal aliens and is also scheduled to be sentenced in March, and could face up to 10 years in prison.

11 Plead Guilty in Massive Asylum Fraud

WASHINGTON, D.C. (ICE) — An 11th person pleaded guilty February 11 in federal court to a massive immigration benefits scam by organizations that, among other things, coached aliens on how to, among other things, solicit sympathy from asylum officers.

"We’re seeing more and more of these types of cases every day," said Marcy Forman, Direrctor of ICE’s Office of Investigation. "When someone attempts to obtain benefits by deception, it degrades the entire immigration system because fraudulent documents present risks–the risk that criminals will use those documents in criminal schemes and the risk to our national security."

Springfield, Va., resident Johnson Aliffin, 33, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and immigration fraud and agreed to forfeit $10,000. Aliffin’s plea was the result of "Operation Jakarta," a two-year, ICE-led investigation into the illegal practices of four Indonesian immigration brokers and consultants operating in Northern Virginia and Maryland.

The investigation revealed that the defendants aided thousands of Indonesian aliens living throughout the United States to apply by fraud for a wide variety of government benefits through alien labor certification, Virginia driver’s licenses and identification cards, United States passports and Social Security cards.

The government’s affidavit alleges that the principal frauds pursued by the defendants were asylum fraud, labor certification fraud and identification document fraud. With regard to asylum, the government’s investigation revealed that several of the defendants were routinely preparing fraudulent asylum applications for Indonesian clients in return for a fee of $2,000 or more.

These applications typically contained false claims that the applicant had been raped, sexually assaulted, beaten or robbed by Muslims in Indonesia on account of the applicant’s Chinese ethnicity or adherence to Christianity. Many of these claims were stock accounts repeated with little variation from application to application. The defendants often supported these claims with counterfeit Indonesian documents, such as birth certificates, baptismal certificates and police reports.

The investigation also revealed that the defendants coached their clients to exploit the perceived sympathies of the asylum officers and immigration judges assigned to consider the applications. For example, the defendants counseled married aliens to feature the wife as the lead applicant because the defendants believed asylum officers and immigration judges were more sympathetic to women and less likely to question them aggressively. Applicants were told to cry, plead and avoid positive references to Indonesia.