DPS Officer's Pursuit of DREAMer Lands Woman in Stir for Six Months (w/Update)
Carmen Cornejo (in turquoise dress, center) and the DREAMers, demonstrating for Sol Zenil Wednesday at Phoenix's ICE office
If you need an illustration of Arizona's diseased "attrition through enforcement" mentality, look no further than the case of Solaguahire Zenil, a local DREAMer, who is currently in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to her immigration attorney Jose Penalosa, Zenil, 23, pleaded guilty this Monday to one misdemeanor count of possession of a forgery device. This, after spending six months in jail, nonbondable, because she was accused of felony forgery charges and presumed to be undocumented.
Normally, ICE would release someone like Zenil after taking custody of her. She's a DREAMer, who has been in the United States since she was five, and she's DACA-eligible, meaning she would benefit from President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Most importantly, her conviction is for a misdemeanor, not a felony.
Why she has not been released yet has so troubled her fellow DREAMers that they demonstrated today outside Phoenix's ICE office, demanding her freedom. She may have been taken to ICE's Eloy Detention Center, but so far, Penalosa has not been able to make contact with his client.
"If they take her to Eloy, then I'll have access to her," he told me, as protesters chanted, "Free Sol Now," nearby. "Once I have her case number, I can file a petition for a bond hearing."
But the fact Zenil remains in ICE custody is only the tip of a very unusual iceberg, if you'll excuse the pun. It is unheard of for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office under Bill Montgomery to offer an undocumented person a misdemeanor plea after that individual has been charged with class four forgery, essentially for working without proper paperwork.
So why did the MCAO make this offer on the same day that Zenil's trial was to begin?
Penalosa says the county attorney offered this unprecedented bargain because it discovered that the Social Security Number Zenil was using to work at a clothing store was valid and belonged to her.
"At the end of the day, it came out that this was her own Social Security Number that she obtained in 1995," Penalosa claimed. "That's why they went to the misdemeanor and dropped the two felony charges."
Penalosa said that before 1996, anybody could apply for a Social Security Number and get one, legally. He said Zenil's public defender told him that this is why the prosecutor cut them such an unusual deal: Not because the prosecutor suddenly developed a conscience, but because the prosecutor had no case.
So why not drop all charges against Zenil?
"She could have [gone to trial] and been vindicated," Penalosa said. "But the county wanted something to hold onto, to say, `Hey, we did this till the end, and therefore her detention was lawful.' That's going to be their argument."
But if the Social Security Number is legit, how can Zenil be guilty of possession of a forgery device?
"That forgery device was a pen," Penalosa said. "That's what the public defender told me [the prosecutor said] -- with which she filled out a form."
And what punishment did Zenil receive?
"One day probation," Penalosa stated.
(Note: The MCAO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)