Sessions asks for tougher charges against immigrants who have been previously deported

Attorney General Jeff Sessions visits Nogales, Arizona, which is on the frontier with Mexico. He announced tougher penalties against deported immigrants who try to return to the United States illegally.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions visits Nogales, Arizona, which is on the frontier with Mexico. He announced tougher penalties against deported immigrants who try to return to the United States illegally. AP

Three cases involving immigrants arrested for sneaking back into the United States after being previously deported emerged in South Florida federal court records, coinciding with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit to the Mexican border where he directed federal prosecutors to target foreign nationals accused of illegal reentry.

During a stop at Nogales, Arizona, on Tuesday, Sessions disclosed he had sent a memo to prosecutors across the country asking them to consider tougher charges against foreign nationals who return after prior deportations like the defendants listed in the recent cases in federal court in Miami and Palm Beach.

“The border is not open. Please don’t come,” Sessions said in an interview with Fox News’ host Sean Hannity after the border tour. “You will be apprehended if you do come and you will be deported promptly. If you’re a criminal, you will be prosecuted, and if you assault our officers, we’re going to come at you [like] a ton of bricks.”

In his memo to prosecutors, Sessions ordered them to give priority “to defendants who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, have any prior criminal history indicating the defendant poses a danger to public safety, have one or more administrative or criminal immigration violations, gang membership or affiliation, or where other aggravating circumstances are present.”

The recent cases in federal court involve immigrants accused of criminal offenses for reentering the country after being deported, plus charges implicating them in alleged local crimes.

One of the cases involved a Guatemalan, identified in court records as Jacob Zapeta Castro, who had been previously convicted — on Jan. 18, 2013 — for having fled the scene of a traffic accident with injuries, according to a criminal complaint filed by a deportation officer of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to an article published Aug. 21, 2012, on the Sun Sentinel’s website, Zapeta Castro, 26, was arrested after fleeing the crash scene at the intersection of Lake Worth Road and Haverhill Road in Greenacres.

“In an arrest report,” according to the story, “police said Zapeta Castro reeked of alcohol and that his eyes were red and bloodshot. Police had to assist him because he could barely walk.”

Cops also found an open bottle of Corona beer and a 12-pack in the crashed Toyota.

“Two of the seven victims were hospitalized for their injuries,” the Sun Sentinel reported.

The ICE criminal complaint, meanwhile, said Zapeta Castro was deported on Feb. 13, 2013, but returned a few months later and was deported a second time on Nov. 13.

He returned a third time and it was Jan. 19 this year that Zapeta Castro was arrested in Palm Beach County for a violation of probation, according to the criminal complaint.

Zapeta Castro has since pleaded guilty to the reentry charge and is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

His Miami Lakes lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Another case that initially emerged in December involved another Guatemalan arrested in Palm Beach County for violation of probation in a domestic battery offense and driving without a valid driver license, according to an ICE criminal complaint. Rigoverto Velásquez Pérez had previously been deported in 2009.

He pleaded guilty to charges of illegal reentry after deportation and on March 17 was sentenced to three months in prison and then was ordered to surrender to ICE for deportation again.

His attorney at the federal public defender’s office could not be reached for comment.

The third case was a jury indictment in Miami against an immigrant whose nationality was not disclosed in court records. He had been indicted for returning to the U.S. after a prior deportation.

If found guilty, he could be sentenced to a maximum 10 years in prison, according to the indictment.