By Tim Horan
Immigration issues straight from the U.S./Mexican border were presented at a preliminary hearing in Dickinson County District Court Friday.
Five hours, four witnesses and four different interpreters weren’t enough for Magistrate Judge Keith Collett to make a decision if a trial involving human trafficking is imminent.
The preliminary hearing will need to resume at 3 p.m. June 4 as a key witness for the defense was charged with witness tampering Friday afternoon.
The case started when Misael Chirino-Fernandez, 28, of Cleveland, Texas, failed to properly use his turn signal a couple of times on Interstate 70 on April 3.
Kalen Robison, deputy with the drug enforcement unit of the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office, said that at 7:47 p.m. that day he observed a pickup making illegal signals as the turn signal blinked only a couple times on two different occasions just east of Abilene.
Chirino-Fernandez, the driver, provided a driver’s license but no registration as he said the vehicle was rented.
Robison was given permission to search the vehicle. What he found was a 13-year-old male in the back seat. Also in the vehicle was Alonzo Gutierrez Reyes, 23. He had a passport with a Louisville, Ky., address.
Crystal Beveridge, a deportation officer with Homeland Security, said the 13-year-old male was undocumented. He arrived in the United State on March 7 at El Paso, Texas. She presented a RENAP, a National Registry of Persons, which listed a birth date of March 8, 2006.
Later the 13-year-old said in court he was born in 2003, making him 16.
Though Beveridge’s testimony was stricken from the record, Collett later said he was convinced the male was 13 years old.
During the traffic stop that day, Robison called in Deputy Favio Garcia to translate Spanish to English and English to Spanish.
Garcia and Robison became suspicious because the 13-year-old male, who gave an incorrect name, was not related to the other males in the vehicle.
Chirino-Fernandez and Reyes were then arrested for human trafficking and the boy taken into state custody.
Reyes’ attorney was Pam Sullivan and Chirino-Fernandez was represented by Brandon Barrett, both public defenders.
Monica Chirino, who identified herself as the wife of Chirino-Fernandez, said outside the courtroom that her husband owned a transportation service in the Houston, Texas, area. He often transported household goods and sometimes families.
She said her husband was approached by Reyes to drive him back to his home in Kentucky. Along the way they were to pick up a 16-year-old friend in Syracuse, Kansas, and take him to live with his uncle in Kentucky.
Monica Chirino said the issue is a lack of communication.
Chirino-Fernandez was paid $1,200 to transport the pair.
Defense argued that the boy didn’t speak Spanish but rather K’iche’, the native language of his home in Joyabaj, Guatemala; thus much of his comments in March were misunderstood.
“Is it possible some interpretation could be incorrect?” Sullivan asked Garcia of the initial contact.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Did he at any time indicate that he did not give his permission?” Sullivan asked Garcia.
County Attorney Andrea Purvis objected.
Under Kansas law, human trafficking is the recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining, by any means, a child knowing that the child, with or without force, fraud, threat or coercion, will be used to engage in: forced labor; involuntary servitude; or sexual gratification of the defendant or another involving the exchange of anything of value.
Purvis said that, under Kansas law, permission is not relevant.
“How are you gong to get to forced labor without a threat?” Collett asked.
During the preliminary hearing, an interpreter translated the 13-year-old’s words from K’ichie’ to English.
The boy said he wanted to go to Kentucky to “work.”
The 13-year-old testified, often in tears, that his parents lived in Guatemala and “they” held a note on their house and farm. “They” are the people that arraigned him to cross the border into the U.S.
He said he voluntarily wanted to go to Kentucky where his cousin’s husband, Domingo, whom he called “family,” would find him a job.
He said he also had siblings in Nebraska.
His parents owed 15,000 quetzal, roughly $1,956 U.S. The people holding the note would take the house and land if not repaid.
“Are the persons that hold the note to your parents’ house in this room?” Sullivan asked.
“They don’t live here,” he said. “They are not here because they are in Guatemala.”
He said he has contacted his parents twice since April 3.
Asked why he came to the United States, he replied, “I want to work. I want to get money.”
Asked if he wanted to return to his parents in Guatemala, he said “no.”
“I will get lazy at home,” he said.
“I don’t want to go back. There is no money,” he said later.
At one point, Judge Collett questioned the youth’s testimony.
“The witness’ testimony is unreliable,” he said. “I don’t know what to do with it.”
His family member, identified as Domingo Lorenzo Zacarias, sat in the courthouse hallway all day. When the 13-year-old was asked to identity Zacarias, he could not. The boy could not be sure when he last saw Zacarias, which was in Guatemala.
Eduardo Suy, 18, from Junction City, said he visited with the boy. He said the 13-year-old told him he came to the United States with a fake dad and was going to live with a fake uncle.
It’s easier to cross the border with children, said Suy, also originally was from Guatemala and spoke K’iche.’
While attempting to contact Trooper Wilmer Baquaro by phone to testify in the case, Zacarias allegedly talked with the 13-year-old and was arrested for tampering with a witness.
Zacarias was then called as a witness. Collett advised Zacarias that he had the right to not testify and anything he said in court could be used against him. Collett advised Zacarias that he had the right to be represented by an attorney.
Speaking though an interpreter, he said he wanted an attorney.
“I am all out of attorneys,” Collett said, setting 3 p.m. June 4 as the next court date.
Twenty minutes later Collett heard the witness tampering complaint against Zacarias. Deputy Robison gave Judge Collett an oral affidavit for the arrest.
While sitting in the hallway, Zacarias allegedly got up and went into the room where the boy was being held. He motioned the boy to come over.
Robison said Zacarias asked the boy why he did not identify him as family. The boy replied that the family member was much thinner when he had seen him last.
Zacarias was released on a misdemeanor and was to return to court June 4.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.