Rape investigation leads to arrest of undocumented workers in Palmerton

Rape investigation uncovers undocumented workers in Palmerton.

A sexual assault allegation against two undocumented immigrants in Palmerton led to the arrest of three other men who were also in the country illegally, officials said.

Jose Antonio Corripio Martinez, 36, of Jim Thorpe, and Rafael Alberto Escobar Garcia, 29, of Palmerton, were charged Wednesday with assaulting an 18-year-old woman at a party in mid-December.

Police said the men acknowledged they were undocumented, so Immigration and Customs Enforcement joined the investigation.

ICE agents visited the men's workplace, borough restaurant Tony's Pizza, as well as another nearby Italian restaurant, Papa Al's, Palmerton police Chief Randolph Smith said. They determined two other workers at Tony's and one worker at Papa Al's were undocumented.

"These gentlemen were there, couldn't provide proper ID. ... They were run through ICE's system and all found to be illegal," Smith said.

ICE took the men into custody, Smith said. Martinez and Garcia were arraigned and committed to Carbon County Prison, each $150,000 bail.

The arrests came a day after the Trump administration rolled out tough new immigration rules, but Smith said his department isn't targeting immigrants. He called the three co-workers were "collateral damage" from the rape investigation.

"This was not an ICE raid," Smith said. "We weren't targeting any illegal people other than the two who were the focus of our investigation. We're not going to be going out looking for illegal immigrants. We have a lot of other important things to take care of."

In a statement, ICE described its involvement as routine.

"ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations during which additional resources and personnel are dedicated to apprehending deportable foreign nationals," the statement said. "The focus of these targeted enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis."

The fate of the Palmerton detainees will be determined far from Carbon County.

Jackie Kline, an immigration attorney in Reading who is not involved in the Palmerton case, said people arrested by ICE are either sent to the state's immigration detention center at York County Prison or given a notice to appear in immigration court in Philadelphia or York.

Center detainees receive bail hearings. People with no criminal convictions or previous contact with immigration officials have typically received bail of $2,500 or so, but Kline said the amounts had been rising sharply even before the new immigration rules.

"We're now seeing $10,000 and $15,000 and upwards," she said. "And in the immigration system there's no option to put a percentage down. You have to put 100 percent down and if you can't pay, you're not going to be released. It seems like they are going to be detaining more people than they release."

Immigrants who seek to stay in the U.S. have several routes of appeal. They can claim asylum from a hostile regime or abusive relationship, for example.

If the judge rules a detainee should be deported, ICE carries out the removal process to the country of origin.

The government has traditionally concentrated its most vigorous deportation efforts on immigrants who had committed serious crimes. Under the new policies, however, the Department of Homeland Security has directed the removal of any undocumented immigrant convicted of a crime.

To handle the increase in deportations, the government will hire 10,000 ICE agents and expand a program to deputize state and local police as immigration enforcers.

It will also expand expedited removal proceedings, under which people can immediately be deported without a hearing. Previously, expedited removal only applied to people caught within 100 miles of the border within 14 days after entering the country. It will now apply nationwide and to people who have been in the United States for up to two years.

Staff writers Andrew Wagaman and Michelle Merlin contributed to this story.

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