ICE Official: Deportation Not Main Goal of O'Neill Immigration Raids

Nov. 6, 2019, 11:23 a.m. ·

Good afternoon. I'm Jack Williams with NET News. The trial of three people charged with harboring workers in the country illegally caught up in an immigration raid last year and O'Neill Nebraska is continuing. Fred Knapp of NET News was at the trial today he joins us live, Fred what happened in the courtroom?

Robert Visnaw, Resident Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Grand Island testified. He described in the investigation that began in April of 2017, after a briefing by state and law a local law enforcement on unlawful employment of people from outside the country and questions about how they were being paid. Visnaw started investigating bank records of the companies that were supplying the workers, that escalated to pulling trash from our grocery store where workers cashed checks, then getting phone records of the staffing company head, Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado and his wife, Magdalena Castro Benitez, and eventually wiretaps on their cell phones, recording about 5,000 calls between May and June of last year.

Did Visnaw any surveillance on his own?

That was one of the few humorous parts of today. He tried once, but it didn't go well. He was driving what he described as a bluish purple Ford Edge with out-of-county plates in O'Neill, which is a town of 3,500 where everybody knows everybody else.

So what did he say about the immigration raid itself?

Well, by that time, which was August 8 2018, up to 400 law enforcement personnel were involved at multiple locations in O'Neill, Atkinson, Ainsworth, Royal and elsewhere, searching and arresting people at various ag companies -- a potato processing plant, tomato processing, pork operations, trying to get there all at once so that the various operations didn't warn each other. And there were also operations in Minnesota and Las Vegas. Over 100 people were arrested on immigration violations in Nebraska alone.

So Fred, was arresting people for those immigration violations the reason for all this enforcement effort?

According to Visnaw, it was not. He had a fascinating exchange with Lesley Woods of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Woods asked him on the day of the raids, "Were you looking for aliens?" And Visnaw said "That is a byproduct of these type of investigations. The aliens are evidence." He said they were looking for people working for Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, who ran the staffing companies. And Visnaw said if they had encountered people only lawfully president in the U.S., "We wouldn't have had a case." Then Woods asked "Was the goal to ID individuals for deportation?" And Visnaw said "No."

So what was the goal?

He said it was to find evidence against Delgado and the people who were assisting him. Delgado has already pled guilty to harboring people in the country illegally. This trial is of three people --John Good, John Glidden, and Mayra Jimenez -- accused of conspiring with him.

So what did the defense do when they had a chance to cross examine Visnaw?

Well, defense lawyers asked about whether owners of the various companies were arrested. Visnaw said they were not -- that's the owners of the companies where the illegally present workers were working. They went through whose responsibility it was to check workers' legal status, and Visnaw said it was either the company's -- the ag companies -- for the direct hires, or the staffing companies. Testimony then moved on to transcript of wiretaps that the prosecution says will show the defendants were cooperating with the staffing companies. They called Juan Pablo and Magdalena's son, Antonio de Jesus Castro to testify about the calls. Antonio said he knew his father's workers were in the country illegally, and as far as he knew, the companies did too.

So what's coming up next?

Well, Antonio is still testifying and at some point Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, who is still awaiting sentencing, will testify for the prosecution as well.