Immigration debate takes center stage in Erie

As an interpreter quietly relayed to Alfredo Ramos Gallegos an explanation of his legal rights in the hush of an Erie federal courtroom, chants, cheers and blowing whistles of a crowd on the street below broke through.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Gallegos, a 40-year-old Ohio factory worker, violated federal law by illegally re-entering the United States without permission soon after being deported by an immigration judge in 2000.

Gallegos’ supporters, two busloads of whom rallied in his support this morning amid whipping wind and driving snow in Perry Square, say that federal policy that results in the deportation and the destruction of families of those like Gallegos — described as a father, worker and tax payer — must change.

The ratcheting national debate over immigration reform took center stage in Erie as Gallegos made his initial appearance before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter on an indictment filed March 11.

In a brief hearing that drew national media attention, Baxter informed Gallegos of his rights and Gallegos entered a plea of not guilty to the felony charge of re-entry of removed aliens. Baxter then released Gallegos to return to his home in Ohio to await further court proceedings. She said he must wear an electronic monitor and report periodically to U.S. Pretrial Services while the case is pending.

In a separate development welcomed by his supporters, Gallegos was also granted a one-year “stay of removal” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Gallegos was referred to the Erie U.S. Border Patrol station after police in Mentor, Ohio, stopped a car in which Gallegos was a passenger on Feb. 8. The Erie Border Patrol station investigated the case and brought the criminal charges in Erie because the station covers portions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.

If convicted, Gallegos could face up to two years in prison, a fine and deportation.

Gallegos’ lawyers and his supporters — including HOLA, a Latino outreach and advocacy group based in Ohio and America’s Voice, a Washington D.C.-based immigration advocacy group — hope to halt the prosecution before that happens.

See Friday’s Erie Times-News and for more coverage.

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Immigration debate takes center stage in Erie
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