Any day now, Salvador Ibarra could be deported from the United States. The Oregon resident sits in a federal immigration detention lockup in Tacoma and—barring a last-minute reprieve—will be flown back to Mexico when there are enough deportees to fill a plane.
Ibarra could be one of the strongest witnesses in what is probably the biggest immigration fraud in Oregon history, highlighted recently in a WW cover story ("Greed Card," WW, Nov. 27, 2013). The scam, run by a pair of "notarios," robbed Ibarra of $10,000 he thought would help him stay in the U.S. legally.
Ibarra's testimony is potentially so valuable that law enforcement officials have asked he not be deported.
U.S. Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall, the state's top federal law enforcement officer, recently told WW that prosecuting dishonest notarios, pseudo-lawyers who prey on undocumented immigrants, is a priority for her office.
But it has taken no action in the case of the now-defunct Immigration Solutions. Her office is sitting on mounds of evidence that Juvenal Vega and Patrick Snyder conned more than 80 immigrants out of as much as $1 million with bogus promises that they could solve the immigrants' documentation problems.
Now, failure to bring charges in the case has left Ibarra and other witnesses exposed to deportation.
"It's not right," says Ibarra's son, Jaime, a 21-year-old student at Rogue Community College. "My dad had the courage to step up and say something about this fraud. He's in jail, and they are still out there free like nothing happened."
Under President Obama, deportations in the U.S. have soared to about 400,000 a year, but Ibarra's case is unusual. Records show Ibarra, a Medford resident who came to this country in 1994, first attracted immigration authorities' attention in 2005, when he was questioned by a forest-service officer while with a hunting party on federal land in southern Oregon.
Ibarra—who worked in construction and ran his own lawn-care business—raised four children in the U.S. with his wife, and two of their children were born here, making them U.S. citizens.
Ibarra explored all his options for staying in Oregon—including giving his money to Vega and Snyder, the notarios. Ibarra has told investigators the notarios offered to clear up his immigration paperwork but didn't do what they promised. Ibarra also said he and his family were threatened with retaliation if he reported the scam.
While there's no dispute Ibarra came to this country illegally, immigration law specifically carves out for immigrants like Ibarra something called a "U visa," which allows victims of crime who are cooperating witnesses in a criminal investigation to remain in the country.
However, Ibarra's attorney, Kevin Stout, tells WW that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected Ibarra's application for a U visa. Stout says Ibarra was the first witness in the Immigration Solutions case to apply for a visa, and other witnesses have since been approved.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Justice has twice written to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, asking that Ibarra be allowed to stay.
"I am writing to strongly support Salvador Ibarra's U Visa application," wrote senior assistant attorney general Diane Schwartz Sykes on April 19, repeating a similar plea from a year earlier. "Mr. Ibarra has cooperated with both criminal and civil law enforcement agencies in the investigation of Patrick Snyder, Juvenal Vega and Immigration Solutions."
Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said she could not comment on the specifics of Ibarra's visa application.
A spokesman for the sister agency responsible for deportation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says officials there are unaware of law enforcement interest in keeping Ibarra here.
"We have received no communication from federal or local authorities indicating Mr. Ibarra's continued presence is required for an ongoing investigation or impending prosecution," said the ICE spokesman, who was authorized to speak only on background. Ibarra's 2006 deportation order has been stayed three times while appeals worked their way through courts, the spokesman added.
Stout says the feds are ignoring guidelines handed down in August to exercise prosecutorial discretion, particularly in cases where witnesses have no prior criminal record or record of deportation, as is the case with Ibarra.
Due to his confinement, Ibarra could not be reached for comment, but he wrote immigration officials Nov. 3, 2012, about his plight. "My family has gone though a very bad time for all of the fraud and threats that the notario has made, and my family doesn't deserve to suffer."
Now, though, it appears speaking up got Ibarra nothing. U.S. Attorney Marshall did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Stout says if federal officials put Ibarra on a plane rather than use him to prosecute the notarios, it will send a curious message. "They have discretion to keep him here," Stout says. "It's tragic for this family to be destroyed while criminals operate with impunity.â