By JACK WEATHERLY
Eleven foreign nationals arrested Feb. 22 in raids at Jackson and Meridian area restaurants by agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have pleaded guilty, or in one case await a plea hearing, to violating the federal Re-entry of Deported or Removed Alien act.
They are among 55 foreign nationals who were arrested by ICE agents at eight Asian restaurants.
The others were sent to the ICE Detention Facility in Jena, La.,and were not prosecuted but simply deported because they had not previously been formally ordered to leave the United States, said Jackson lawyer Carlos Tanner.
Tanner is the court-appointed attorney for Marcelino Gregorio-Hernandez, who pleaded guilty.
Calls to Dennis Joiner, federal public defender for South Mississippi, were not returned.
Gregorio-Hernandez and other detainees have been kept at the Madison County Detention Center, as there is no there is no federal pretrial facility in the court’s district, Tanner said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“It looks like Ichiban is still alive and well,” Tanner said of one of the eight restaurants from which ICE agents took employees into custody.
“Looks to me like nobody is willing to go after somebody who is really benefiting from this,” Tanner said.
The restaurants in the metro area are: three Ichiban Chinese restaurants, two in Flowood and one in Pearl; China Buffet in Pearl; Red Samurai in Madison, and Hibachi Express in Clinton.
In Meridian, the restaurants are Sake Sushi and China II.
The case comes at a time when a number of cities in the U.S. are declaring themselves to be “sanctuaries” vowing not to cooperate with the federal government, which, the cities contend, is overreaching the Constitution.
The Mississippi Legislature passed a bill, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in March, that states that cities, state agencies and public colleges cannot be prevented from asking about someone’s immigration status.
California and San Francisco officials are suing the Trump administration, alleging federal threats to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” are unconstitutional and violate the rights of residents, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The Trump administration has warned that cities that resist federal enforcement of immigration laws will have some federal funding withheld.
Those pleading guilty in Mississippi stand to serve up to two years in prison and pay a fine of up to $250,000, according to U.S. Code 8 1326 (a)(1).
The 11 detainees were indicted in federal court on March 21.
The office of acting U.S. Attorney for South Mississippi Harold Brittain released the names of those who pleaded guilty. Their countries of origin were not released by the court. Those who have already pleaded guilty are as follows.
Juan Silvestre-Lopez, Marcelino Gregorio-Hernandez, Gabriel Gomez-Hernandez, Romelio Chilel-Vicente, Oscar Aguilar-Santis, Andres Diego-Santizo, Daniel Lopez-Vicente, Gaspar Pablo-Santizo, Fransisco Miguel Mateo and Jose Carmelo-Pablo. The plea hearing for Avimael Garcia-Calvo is scheduled for this week.
Sentencing for all will begin this month and continue into October.