As the national debate regarding immigration reform circulates around media and Congress, and individual states enact their own policies to cope with their perception of immigration needs, there’s another, seedier side of immigration politics, as My San Antonio Online uncovers in this article – one that is all too common in border states like Texas. Attorneys in San Antonio and other cities with high populations of undocumented immigrants are paying attention to the court case of former Jarrell Police Chief Andres Tomas Gutierrez, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes from immigrants and lying about making them tipsters so they could stay in the U.S. with “legal” permission.
Watching how the prosecutors in Jarrell are framing their case, lawyers – especially immigration attorneys in San Antonio – will note that Gutierrez was allowed to remain free on bond, contrary to most any case in Texas in which the defendant is an undocumented immigrant. And while each judge determines each defendant’s flight risk, one does have to wonder about the potential inequality in privilege afforded to an admittedly guilty criminal in immigration matters while undocumented immigrants themselves in some places can be held unilaterally without bond. But that’s not in Texas, and Gutierrez’s case is (attorneys in San Antonio would note) where cowboy justice is a thing of the past and every individual is treated equally under the law.
Gutierrez retired in October with the expressed intent to pursue advanced education opportunities, but now faces up to 20 years in prison for charges of wire fraud and theft of honest services. Federal agents raided Jarrell City Hall in December and found evidence of the police chief’s accepting up to $40,000 in bribes from individuals who live in the U.S. without legal permission. Gutierrez would recommend them for parolee immigration status, a designation meant to help officers with operations such as drug and human trafficking investigations. Instead of utilizing their intelligence, he’d tuck their cash away into his personal bank account, effectively “selling” the immigrants benefits.
That undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable in a situation that Gutierrez capitalized on, prosecutors reported. Attorneys in San Antonio should be aware of the potential vulnerability of the city’s immigrant population, as these individuals are often susceptible to schemes and predatory fraud, given their language barriers and occasional lack of understanding of law enforcement authority and the legal system.
Gutierrez had been quietly threatening immigrants in Jarrell and squirreling away their money since 2011, and in exchange enrolling them in the Significant Public Benefit Parole program, which recognizes immigrants’ assistance who take part in proceedings to benefit the U.S. government. The requests to be designated as a participant of the SPBP program requires submission to and approval by a law enforcement agency. Only 40 miles north of Austin, the small town of Jarrell saw the corruption of that agency through Gutierrez’s actions. As the FBI acting special agent in charge of his case commented, Guiterrez “abused his authority and repeatedly broke the law he was sworn to uphold. He tarnished the badge he wore and violated the trust of the people of Jarrell.” While law enforcement officers shouldn’t be generalized by Gutierrez’s example, his case does lead one to wonder about the potential injustices coming from abuses of power that can result from one bad apple in a bunch.