For Proclaiming His Innocence of a Brooklyn Rape, An Illegal Immigrant Faces Deportation

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Giraldo is caught — unjustly, he says — by a federal program aimed at serious criminals and security risks

Early in the morning last June 4, William Giraldo stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Sunset Park for a coffee. Two days later, standing next to his fiancé, the 24-year-old car-service driver saw himself on the local newscast. It was a 20-second grainy video clip of Giraldo at the cash register of Dunkin’ Donuts, wearing a white t-shirt and white earphones.

Initially, he and his fiancée Sandra Alvarado, laughed at the sight of him on television. But after realizing that the New York Police Department was looking for him as the suspect in an attempted rape near the donut shop, Giraldo began to panic. While he was the man in the surveillance video, he had not committed the crime.

Yet as the result of coming forward voluntarily, the father of two now faces deportation — not for the crime but for his status as an illegal immigrant. He is due in court next month where a judge will make the decision whether he stays with his family in Brooklyn or returns back to Colombia.

“I did not do anything wrong,” said Giraldo. “I did what any person would do to clear up their name in the situation. I went to the police station. The last thing on my mind was my immigration status. I just wanted to clear up my name.”

The events leading to Giraldo’s tenuous situation only began with the surveillance video itself. After a sleepless night and at the urging of his family, Giraldo decided to go to the nearest police precinct, in Bensonhurst, to absolve himself from any wrongdoing.

Unfortunately for Giraldo, proving his innocence turned out to be more difficult than he expected. After he told the police he was the man in the video but not the criminal they were looking for, he was sent to Brooklyn’s Special Victims Unit for further interrogation. The 28-year-old woman who was attacked was also brought in for a line-up, where she picked Giraldo as her attacker.

On June 8, which was supposed to be the day of his wedding in Florida, Giraldo was arraigned. He recalls police officers and people outside the court house in Brooklyn accosting him. The night before, the New York Post, New York Daily News, local news stations, and various other news outlets had reported his arrest in the attempted rape of a young woman in Sunset Park.

“Most of them knew who I was,” said Giraldo. “So they were calling my name. They were just looking at me like garbage. I heard people in the streets screaming names and insulting me.”

He was charged with four felonies and three misdemeanors involving rape, sex abuse, robbery, assault and sexual misconduct. Judge John Wilson posted his bail at $200,000. Giraldo spent what he called a terrifying few days in protective custody away from the regular detainees at Rikers Island.

At his next scheduled court appearance on June 10, Giraldo hoped he would be set free. He had learned from his lawyer, Heriberto Cabrera, that his accuser had told the court she had made a mistake when she picked Giraldo from the line-up.

Giraldo did not see the judge that day, but was told by his lawyer that Judge Desmond Green had released him out on custody without bail for his criminal case. Yet, because of Giraldo’s illegal immigration status, the court had turned him over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Giraldo spent a few more days at Rikers Island before being transferred to an immigration detention center in New Jersey’s Bergen County jail.

After a month, Giraldo was released on $7,500 bail. His next court appearance is set for September 8 for his criminal case and September 13 for his immigration case.

According to Lou Martinez, an immigration official based in New York, Giraldo entered the United States in 1999 on a tourist visa for a temporary period, not to exceed a year, from Colombia. “I left Colombia with my mom at the age 12 and never looked back,” Giraldo said.

He has not returned back to Colombia since moving to Borough Park, a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, with his mother. Giraldo does not remember much of his life in Colombia. “All I know is my life here in New York,” he said.

His mother enrolled Giraldo at John J. Pershing Middle School in Sunset Park, where he learned English. He eventually graduated from Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Borough Park, where Giraldo first met his fiancé Sandra Alvarado, a Colombian citizen residing legally in the United States.

After a few years of what Giraldo calls “doing the whole party and club scene,” as well as a failed first marriage, he decided to settle down with his longtime girlfriend. The two moved into a small but comfortable apartment in Bensonhurst. Giraldo began working as a driver for La New Express car-service company and Alvarado waited tables at the Olive Garden in Time Square. Giraldo has a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son from a previous marriage.

Meanwhile, Giraldo never made any effort to become a legal resident of the United States, hoping instead to avoid coming to the attention of authorities. “I thought I could just keep my head down and not get in trouble with the police, he recalled, “I’d be okay.”

But Giraldo did come into contact with police as a result of the rape case, and because of his illegal immigration status, he spent 30 days in the Bergen County jail. Giraldo’s detention at the county jail in New Jersey occurred because of a federal program, called the Secure Communities Program, which makes it easier for immigration authorities to access the fingerprints of people booked at local jails and begin the deportation proceeding for illegal immigrants. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended New York’s involvement with the federal program on June 1, Giraldo was still booked by immigration authorities on June 10.

“I don’t think it is right from their part,” said Giraldo. “ It was actually illegal. It is like they said, ‘We couldn’t throw anything against you, I’m going to throw you to the lion’s cage.’”

While jailed at Rikers Island, Giraldo was interviewed by immigration officers, who determined Giraldo was in the country illegally and placed him on hold for removal proceeding.

Immigration officials have said the Secure Communities Program is aimed at criminals who have committed serious offenses. However, the majority of people held at Rikers are like Giraldo, with no criminal or minor misdemeanors. According to New York’s City Council, in 2009 about half of the immigrants flagged by federal authorities at Rikers Island had no prior conviction and 20 percent had a misdemeanor as their highest conviction.

“This is why programs like the Secure Communities and others do not work,” said Lindsey Nash, an attorney at the Immigrant Justice Clinic of Cardozo School of Law. “They cast such a huge net, use no discretion and strain the relationship between undocumented immigrants and law enforcement.”

Last week, the Obama administration said it would stop deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security. The change in policy comes after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency shift in capturing illegal immigrants with serious offenses. Last year, half of illegals removed—more than 195,000—were convicted criminals. Nicole Navas, a spokesperson for the immigration agency, said they expect the number to decrease this year.

The new mandate from the White House is expected to lead to the review about 300,000 cases of illegal immigrants currently in the removal proceedings. Many of these cases involve people who came to the United States as young children, and have gone through American schools, sometimes continuing into college.

Critics of the plan say it is cutting corners when it comes to immigration law. “This is a slap in the face to those who are currently in the process of coming to America,” said Bob Dane, spokesperson for Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a Washington-based organization that seeks to stop illegal immigration. “It is unfair and rewards the law-breaking.”

Giraldo sees this opportunity has a second chance but remains cautions.

“I’m happy to hear the news,” he said, “but I won’t believe it until I see it.”

William Giraldo and Sandra Alvarado on their wedding day, June 13, 2011, in Bensonhurst.

After his release last month, Giraldo is trying to rebuild his life. His first act as temporarily free man was to marry his longtime girlfriend, Sandra Alvarado. Although they were supposed to get married in Florida, they decided on a backyard wedding in their home in Bensonhurst.

Giraldo has nothing bad to say to the woman who accused him of attempted rape but disagrees with the legal system decision to turn him over to immigration. He has quit his job and wants to go back to school for graphic design in the fall. Giraldo is also seeking therapy to deal with the stress of the past couple of months.

“I just need someone to talk to about this what happened to me,” he said. “I’ve been feeling paranoid about leaving my house or being alone in public. I need to get my life back.”

Next month, Giraldo will be in court for both his criminal and immigration case. He and his lawyer expect the criminal charges to officially be dropped. Although Giraldo has been told by his lawyer that the news of the immediate change in the deportation of illegal immigrants will affect the outcome of his future, the young man remains unsure.

“I still think it is in God’s hands,” he said.

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12 Responses to “For Proclaiming His Innocence of a Brooklyn Rape, An Illegal Immigrant Faces Deportation”

  1. caorlyn buntrock
    August 21, 2011 at 10:27 AM #

    This is a tragic story for the young man involved. A well written account by the author.

  2. greg
    August 21, 2011 at 10:55 AM #

    This is YOUR problem Girardo, not ours. Aren’t you proud of what your parents have done to you now? Took you to a country illegally and now that country wants you to leave. You’ll be even more equipped to deal with your new life in Columbia because you are far more educated now and speak English as well.

  3. albob
    August 21, 2011 at 1:56 PM #

    this is a sad story.

  4. Agent of Chaos
    August 21, 2011 at 2:20 PM #

    Being in the US in violation of our immigration laws is a criminal act no matter what Obama, Janet Napolitano or John Morton say. It is the court system that interprets the laws, the executive branch is charged with carrying out the laws whether they agree with them or not. To do otherwise is aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise.

  5. Lois
    August 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM #

    The US is portrayed as the heavy when it enforces its immigration laws! They are saying SC doesn’t work because it gets people like this guy, a visa overstay who CHOSE to not apply to be here legally and CHOSE to just keep his head down in hopes of never getting caught.

    I say, right on Secure Communities, you have done what you are suppose to do! Our laws are not to be cherry picked. Yes, he has a family because he CHOSE to create one knowing his circumstances, how irresponsible. And, as usual, they say they have done nothing wrong because they haven’t murdered anyone…You are here illegally, you know it, you chose to do it because in spite of the fact you came here at 12, you still have done nothing to change you situation. Were you expecting blankety amnesty or something? No sympathy here, you can take all of the pics with your babies surrounding you in order to tug on liberal heart strings. I use to be one, I am done!

  6. Vanessa
    September 3, 2011 at 1:07 AM #

    I would rather persons here illegally have the confidence that if they have information in a criminal case they should come forward without risking deportation.

  7. George M.
    September 13, 2011 at 12:35 PM #

    I hope he get’s deported. He isn’t legally allowed here. I agree with Lois 100 % this is an injustice, and must be taken care of. You break the law you go home (south america) in his case.

  8. Vasquez
    September 15, 2011 at 12:11 AM #

    Cry me a river!

  9. jc
    October 5, 2011 at 10:44 AM #

    Well this story will spread through the immigrant community fast as bad new always travels that way. You will see fewer people come forward to help the police in any fashion. This is an unfortunate example. Yes he should have tried to gain citizenship.

    Now if Giraldo is deported he won’t be allowed to enter the USA again until 2021. Wow. Another broken family. If his family goes on welfare who will that help?

  10. NYC Depressing
    December 9, 2011 at 8:13 PM #

    How come officer Mata and officer Morena never spent a minute in jail? One of them admitted he spooned a naked woman in bed and other one admitted he took a nap on her couch While “they were getting to know eaqch other”

  11. Kitty Lopez
    December 14, 2011 at 8:42 AM #

    That is just F**ked up! He was accused. He desurves an appology!!!! Damn!

  12. Kitty Lopez
    December 14, 2011 at 9:18 AM #

    People here are so dam racist. You all need to get over yourselves. I’m a proud Hispanic and am not racist to any race. I welcome everyone with love and encouragement. Everyone deserves a chance whether they are from here or another country. Even if people from other countries apply for citizenship, it takes forever before they actually attain citizenship. You people do not understand how hard it is for Hispanic to become citizens. You need to take your shoes off and walk in the shoes of a Hispanic. If I were to be in charge of some of the laws and/or activities that we have today, one of them will be to rid the country of so much deportation. If someone did something bad, such as kill someone or hurt someone physically, intentionally, that would be a good reason for that person to leave. People that come here come to have a better life. They come here to work. They come here to help their families and to give their children a better life. Give them a freakin’ chance. Allow them to become citizens. Allow them to apply for licenses. Stop pulling them over, just because they are Hispanic. Stop coming up with stupid reasons to get rid of them. If you were a Hispanic and had children that are still young, wouldn’t you want to be able to be there for your children, instead of being afraid that Immigration will come for you? Wouldn’t you want a chance to live here without any issues from the police, just because you are a Mexican, Hondorian, El Salvadorian, or etc.? Geez. Just put yourself into their shoes and think about everything. Think about if you were treated the same way. Think about the children. Think about it all. They have hearts too. The are not emotionless. They care more about there family than any American ever would. Why you think they are willing to have so many people living in there homes. Some of the Hispanics are willing to have there family all in the same household. And sometimes that’s more than 10 people. But not with Americans. Americans love there family. Sure. But are they truly willing to live in the same conditions than Mexicans do in mexico? Or that imigrants go through, even here in the USA? PLEASE THINK PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!
    ….
    HAVE A GREAT DAY AND REFLECT ON WHAT OTHERS GO THROUGH, TOO. PEACE.

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