Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Immigration Bust Revives Claims of Murder Conspiracy -- 06/22/2004

Immigration Bust Revives Claims of Murder Conspiracy -- 06/22/2004

Immigration Bust Revives Claims of Murder Conspiracy
By David Thibault Managing Editor
June 22, 2004

(This is the first in a 3-part series examining the recent federal indictment of Jose Mendez, who advocates for illegal aliens in the U.S., and Mendez's long-held belief that his enemies conspired to murder his wife and son.)

( - One of America's loudest advocates for illegal aliens claims a vengeful FBI has filed a 23-count federal indictment against him to halt his efforts on behalf of the immigrants and to retaliate for a lawsuit that blames the agency for failing to investigate the deaths of the man's wife and son.

Jose Mendez, who directs the Global Evangelism Task Force, a Christian-based ministry seeking legal status for the millions of illegal aliens working in the U.S., was invited to a January White House summit on immigration reform. He has also met numerous times with members of Congress on the subject.

Mendez "seems to know everybody, he shows up at everything ... he's often in the White House," according to Gabriela Lemus, national policy director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, who met Mendez at a congressional rally on immigration reform.

But Mendez now finds himself targeted by the U.S. Justice Department - accused of conspiracy, filing false statements with a federal agency, visa/immigration fraud, mail fraud, and harboring illegal aliens. If convicted on all charges, he could receive prison sentences totaling 210 years.

Advocate of Illegal Immigrants

The Justice Department, Mendez told, had two principal reasons for seeking the indictment against him. The first, Mendez said, was to silence "the national movement for undocumented workers," which he claims to be leading, and the second was to "silence me regarding the assassination of my family."

Since Mendez is suing the FBI for refusing to investigate the May 4, 1997 automobile crash that killed his 28-year-old wife Rosemary and 4-year-old son Daniel, prosecutors are unusually tight-lipped about the immigration fraud charges lodged against Mendez.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of Virginia refused to comment for this article. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Ballow insisted she was "unable to give out any information to the press about the civil litigation or any pending criminal process." And when asked if the indictment was intended as retaliation for Mendez's suit against the FBI, Ballow claimed not to "have a mind on whether they're connected at all."

A press release announcing the indictment, accused Mendez of helping the illegal immigrants with petitions and supporting documentation that contained "forged signatures, false and fraudulent employment and educational histories, degrees and certifications." The release also alleged that Mendez had "hired illegal aliens, and allowed illegal aliens to reside at his home."

Mendez admitted to that he broke the law in assisting and even harboring religious ministers who came to the United States illegally. He claimed the pastors have fanned out into the Hispanic communities to preach Christianity, help the homeless, prostitutes and drug addicts.

And while his public defender has urged him to plead guilty in the case, Mendez said he is anxious to confront the Justice Department in court over what he alleges is the "hypocrisy" surrounding U.S. immigration policies. According to Mendez, the Justice Department occasionally cracks down on poor Hispanics who have entered the United States illegally, while turning a blind eye to the issuance of thousands of visas to Islamic militants who arrive in the United States with the financial backing of Saudi Arabia.

Some Islamic militants are potential terrorists, Mendez insisted. He, on the other hand, is "ready to call all Latino evangelicals to fight and die for this country."

Illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America also comprise a crucial part of the U.S. labor force, Mendez said, and the Justice Department knows it. As a result, most illegal immigrants are allowed to stay until the government decides for political purposes that it needs to crack down on illegal entry, he added.

"Why do you think the government doesn't deport them all? Do you know that [the cost of] grapes, apples and most agricultural products would increase on the order of 250 to 300 percent average? Do you know that the construction would be semi-paralyzed when these people would be taken out of this country?" Mendez said.

The Justice Department threatened to charge Mendez with a lone count last year, he said, gave up on the idea, then reconstituted the case against him this past spring following Mendez's high-profile involvement in immigration reform discussions.

On Jan. 7, Mendez was invited to attend a White House summit on the issue, during which President George Bush laid out his plans for "fair and secure immigration reform." The president's "new temporary worker program" would "match willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs," a White House press release stated.

"The program would be open to new foreign workers and to the undocumented men and women currently employed in the U.S." It would also "allow workers who currently hold jobs to come out of hiding and participate legally in America's economy while not encouraging further illegal behavior," according to the release.

Mendez showed up at the summit with 2 million letters urging action on immigration reform, and later was pictured shaking hands with President Bush.

Mendez has photos from other occasions, showing him with other powerful figures like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Attorney General John Ashcroft and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who on May 4 invited Mendez to the news conference announcing the introduction of the immigration reform bill in the House. Mendez's presence at the May 4 congressional rally took place on the 7th anniversary of the crash that killed his wife and son.

Mendez also joined Gutierrez at an immigration rally on Capitol Hill Feb. 12, at which time he presented the congressman with copies of the 2 million petitions he had given to the president.

But since being indicted on May 13, Mendez has seen his alliance with Gutierrez vaporize.

"These are extremely serious charges and if he's culpable, then he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Scott Frotman, a spokesman for Gutierrez.

Frotman also sought to distance his boss from Mendez. "We had no relationship ... except that he appeared with us at a press conference," Frotman said. "He was one person in a large evangelical community that was ... interested in the issue of immigration."

Lemus, from the League of United Latin American Citizens, was shocked to learn of the indictment against Mendez.

"Twenty-three counts? Oh my God," Lemus said. "[Mendez is] very passionate but he doesn't strike me as a bad person."

Mendez is scheduled for trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 30.

(Part 2, Wednesday June 23, will examine Mendez's claims of a murder conspiracy)


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