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Guilt has nothing to do with punishment -- that is, as long as you're not a Wall Street banker. In Arizona, if you "look" foreign, that's enough to put you in jail indefinitely, without bail - even after you produce your birth certificate:
Recently, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office alleged Briseira Torres, a shy, 31-year-old single mom from Glendale, was here illegally and that Briseira Torres was not her real name.
She was accused of three counts of forgery, in part because her driver's license had her real name on it, which the MCAO thought was bogus. Following her arrest, she was held without bond in Estrella Jail for 4 1/2 months.
Torres lost her home and car because she couldn't make the payments as she endured Estrella's harsh conditions, lousy food, and detention officers.
Worst of all, she was separated from her 14-year-old daughter, who stayed with Torres' friend Amy Diaz while her mom was behind bars.
Torres' eyes well up as she recalls the days her daughter came to visit and had to see Torres in county stripes.
"It was really hard, especially the first time," Torres tells me in the offices of her attorney, Delia Salvatierra. "She was very sad."
Torres was released on August 3, after the MCAO was forced to dismiss the case.
Salvatierra, a well-known immigration attorney, along with the aid of criminal attorney Antonio Bustamante and Johnny Sinodis, a counsel in Salvatierra's office, went to battle on Torres' behalf.
In the pile of paperwork they provided to the court, to the prosecutor, and to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was a silver bullet: a sworn statement from Arizona's Office of Vital Records attesting to the legitimacy of documents on file for Torres.
Among these docs is Torres' birth certificate, showing she was born August 14, 1981, in Avondale.
Salvatierra asked the court to remand the case back to the grand jury.
Judge Carolyn Passamonte did just this, noting in her minute entry that Torres' long-form birth certificate was "clearly exculpatory evidence that should have been presented to the grand jury."
The judge remarked that the documents on file with Vital Records had been "available to the state," and in oral arguments, the prosecutor had to admit that he'd never bothered to pull the file and inspect it.
More troubling still was Passamonte's observation that the MCAO's lone witness, Detective Chris Oberly of the Arizona Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General, told the grand jury this:
In 1999, Vital Records discovered that Torres' birth certificate, in his words, had been "falsely created" by Torres' mother and so the department "canceled it."
This was not true, according to Vital Records. Torres' birth certificate never was canceled and remains as valid as the day it was issued.
There was a flimsy excuse for this insane treatment. When she was 13, she was sent to live with her father in Mexico, who registered her under the name Brenda Gomez. In 1999, she was stopped at the border over the two names, but was admitted back into the United States when her mother brought her birth certificate to show customs officials.
But her legal birth certificate was right there, the whole time of her incarceration. A cop with a bug up his butt decided to act as if it didn't exist. If only her name was Goldman Sachs!