National Council on Disability Document Archive

More Post news on deaf Mexican scandal

Posted by: Jamal Mazrui
Date Mailed: Wednesday, July 30th 1997 12:12 PM

07/25/97 -- Copyright (C) 1997 The Washington Post [Article 289568, 70 lines]

                            Deaf Aliens In INS Care
                    Task Force to Probe Abuse of Immigrants
                      By William Branigin; Blaine Harden
                         Washington Post Staff Writers
      The federal government and New York City reached an agreement yesterday
to transfer custody of more than 50 deaf Mexican victims of an alien-smuggling
ring to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which will form a national
task force to root out abuse of illegal immigrants.
     New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and INS Commissioner Doris M. Meissner
said the city and the federal agency would share the costs of keeping the 55
men, women and children at a Queens motel, where they are currently being held
as material witnesses in a case against their alleged exploiters.
     Seven Mexicans were arrested last weekend on charges of smuggling their
deaf compatriots into the United States and forcing them to peddle trinkets on
city subways. Authorities said the defendants held the vendors in "virtual
slavery," keeping them in two cramped apartments and subjecting them to
beatings, food deprivation and sexual abuse.
     The case has aroused widespread public outrage and generated tips about
similar trinket sales in a number of other cities across the country. In
Washington, Metro riders have reported seeing Hispanic-looking vendors selling
key chains with tags saying "I am deaf" to passengers for $1 apiece. The key
chains, tags, price and sales technique here were the same as in New York,
according to witnesses who have seen the vendors in both cities. 
     However, it is not yet known whether those in Washington and other cities
were also victims of a smuggling ring and whether they were working under the
kind of coercion discovered in New York. According to INS officials, tips have
been received about deaf vendors of similar trinkets in subways, streets or
airports in Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San
Diego, San Francisco and Wilmington, N.C. 
     Potentially, an INS official said, this could mean that the trinket sales
are part of a nationwide racket involving multiple rings and hundreds of
exploited vendors. Besides the seven Mexicans in custody, other suspects are
being sought, including a Mexican identified by the New York victims as the
"boss" of the operation.
     To pursue the New York case and pull together leads from around the
country, the INS is forming a "National Anti-Exploitation Task Force,"
Meissner said. The task force, which is expected to start operating next week,
will dismantle other alien-smuggling rings and "work with U.S. attorneys to
aggressively investigate and prosecute abuse cases wherever else we may find
them," she said.
     Meissner said the INS will assume "all costs" for housing and caring for
the deaf Mexicans at the Queens motel, but that New York City will continue to
provide security, meals and clothing. She said the victims will have full
access to legal and social services until the criminal investigation is
     Both Meissner and Giuliani stressed that the vendors will not be punished
or quickly deported by  U.S. authorities. Of the 55, at least four are infants
who were born in the United States and thus are American citizens. The rest
are believed to be illegal aliens.
    "I want to be very clear on this point," Meissner said. "There are
absolutely no plans to remove any of these people from the United States at
this time."
     Meissner said the Mexicans could be eligible for "S visas," a special
type of visa for persons who provide information in criminal investigations.
Holders of such visas are allowed to apply for legal permanent residence.
     "We are not going to be processing these people, who we consider to be in
the main victims, out of the United States until . . . all considerations that
are relevant to determining their long-term interest have been fully pursued,"
said U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter in New York.
     Carter said the Mexicans, if they wish, will be able to return home after
federal and state investigations are completed, a process likely to take
several weeks.
     Giuliani has gone out of his way to show empathy for the Mexican vendors,
spending parts of last Saturday, Sunday and Monday with them as well as making
himself available to the press for interviews. Foreign-born inhabitants make
up a third of New York City's population.
Harden reported from New York.

07/26/97 -- Copyright (C) 1997 The Washington Post [Article 289663, 89 lines]

              Raid Finds Deaf Mexican Vendors Held in N. Carolina
                              By William Branigin
                         Washington Post Staff Writer
     Immigration agents raided two houses in a North Carolina town yesterday
and found another group of deaf Mexicans who had apparently been smuggled into
the United States to sell trinkets in a racket that officials now believe may
span the nation.
     Acting on a tip from a Mexican consulate, the federal agents and local
police found 17 people, including two teenagers and a toddler, living in two
small one-story houses in a working-class neighborhood of Sanford, N.C., a
town about 44 miles southwest of Raleigh. All the adults and at least one of
the children are deaf and speech-impaired Mexicans.
     Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said the raid appeared
to confirm their worst suspicions that a group of Mexican illegal immigrants
found selling trinkets under a form of indentured servitude in New York City
may be part of a nationwide racket.
     At least six more deaf Mexicans in Chicago have been found hawking items
under similar circumstances and are being interviewed by Mexican consular
officials, a Mexican diplomat said. An INS spokeswoman in Chicago said the
agency did not have any of the vendors in custody and was still investigating
reports of their presence in the city.
     Since the New York case came to light, provoking outrage in the United
States and Mexico, the INS has received dozens of tips from citizens about
similar sales of key chains, pens and toys by deaf Hispanics in subways,
airports, streets and malls. The vendors have been reported operating in such
cities as Washington, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles, San
Diego, San Francisco and Wilmington, N.C. However, officials cautioned, it is
not yet clear whether these other vendors are also the victims of abuse by
organized rings or simply selling the trinkets voluntarily on their own.
     In Sanford, N.C., a preliminary investigation indicated that the Mexicans
found yesterday morning "have been exploited," INS spokesman Russ Bergeron
said. He said they appeared to be in a situation similar to that of the
Mexicans who were rescued from two crowded apartments in New York.
     The Sanford immigrants were living in two adjacent four-room brick houses
cluttered with belongings and crammed with bunk beds against all the available
wall space. Neighbors said the Mexicans were taken in vans every day to sell
their trinkets, and one woman said she had seen as many as nine vans parked
outside on various occasions.
     Russ Parry, an INS supervisory special agent from Atlanta, told reporters
that one of the men taken into custody in Sanford was believed to be a "boss"
of the operation. He said the ring leaders transported the deaf immigrants
from Sanford to cities in the area, such as Charlotte, Chapel Hill and
Raleigh. The vendors made the wares they sold -- along with tags saying, "I am
deaf" -- in their homes, according to Parry. More Mexicans may be held in
other residences in Sanford, he said.
     Mexican consular officials took a statement from one of the vendors in
Sanford, "who gave details of exploitation and abuse to which they had been
subjected," the Mexican Foreign Ministry said. According to a Mexican
diplomat, the tip that led to the raid originally came from a deaf Mexican
girl who had been rescued from the Sanford operation by her parents and taken
to Detroit, where she now lives. After hearing of the New York case, she
alerted the Mexican consulate in Detroit to what she described as abusive
conditions in Sanford.
     "They didn't have complaints of beatings, but they were being held
captive and were forced to work and to turn over the money and to bring in a
minimum of money every day," Teodoro Maus, the Mexican consul general in
Atlanta, told the Associated Press.
     The 55 Mexicans found in New York last weekend had been held in what
officials described as "virtual slavery" by an alien-smuggling ring that
forced the adults to work long hours selling trinkets on city subways, seized
most of their earnings and subjected them to beatings, food deprivation and
sexual abuse. Seven Mexicans were arrested on a variety of state and federal
charges, including assault and smuggling illegal aliens.
     No one has been arrested so far in the North Carolina case, and the INS
is continuing its investigation to determine whether there are any links to
the New York ring, Bergeron said. "We're developing strong leads regarding the
perpetrators in Sanford," he said.
    According to Walter C. Holton Jr., the U.S. attorney in Greensboro, N.C.,
the search by INS agents and Sanford police "resulted from information
received by INS that several deaf mute individuals had been transported from
Mexico to Sanford for the purpose of selling trinkets." He said the 17
included nine men, five women and three children, the youngest of whom is 18
months old and is apparently an American citizen by virtue of having been born
in the United States.
     The INS bused the group to Charlotte, N.C., where they are to be housed
in a motel and interviewed by INS agents with the help of sign-language
   Yesterday's raid came as a shock to Sanford, which has a sizable immigrant
population made up mostly of Mexicans who work at a poultry processing plant
and on farms in the area.
     "I'd see them go by here, talking on their hands," a neighbor, Johann
Coley, said of the deaf vendors. "They were quiet enough."
     "They never bothered anybody," said Edna Dowdy, whose son owns a nearby
grocery store. "They always came into the store to get stuff, and they always
had a lot of money. Cash."
Special correspondent Carlene Hempel reported from Sanford, N.C.

07/27/97 -- Copyright (C) 1997 The Washington Post [Article 289750, 54 lines]

                     Disabled Fled `Worse' Life in Mexico
                                By Mark Fineman
                               Los Angeles Times
     As they sat in their squalid home here last week, Guadalupe Muniz
Rodriguez's parents shook their heads over what they said was the most
perplexing unanswered question after their daughter's 14-month ordeal.
     Why, even after New York City police rescued Muniz -- and 54 other deaf
and speech-impaired Mexicans  -- from servitude in a trinket-selling ring in
New York, would she and the others tell Mexican authorities that they still do
not want to return home?
     The answer, Jose Badillo Huerta and other advocates said, lies in Mexican
society. Badillo says Mexico has little tolerance and offers few opportunities
for people like Muniz, 20.
     When asked to describe attitudes in Mexico toward the deaf, blind and
speech-impaired, Badillo -- who started Mexico City's first private school for
the deaf and speech-impaired 17 years ago -- replied: "It's deplorable. Why
don't these deaf and speech-impaired want to go back to Mexico? Because
there's nothing for them here. Because there, in the United States, they have
everything they don't have here. There, they have food. There, they have a
job. There, they have some understanding. It's a horrible life for them there,
but it's even more horrible here."
     No matter how bad their lives were in New York, where police say the
Mexicans worked 18-hour days selling key chains and knickknacks on subways and
were forced to live dozens to a room in two small Queens apartments, Badillo
said life for them is even worse in their native land.
     In this city of more than 20 million, where life can be hard and
unemployment high even among those without disabilities, Badillo and other
advocates say that Mexican government, society and even families have little
to offer those who cannot see, hear, talk or walk.
     There are only a handful of wheelchair ramps in Mexico. Signs in Braille
are nonexistent in public places. Translators who know Spanish sign language
are few. Even the closest family members treat deaf or blind relatives with
shame, Badillo said. The problem, he added, begins at home. "The mentality of
parents now is that they just hide them under the rug," Badillo said. "If a
doctor or a public official has a deaf child, it just isn't possible to show
it. For example, there is a very famous Mexican comedian who had a deaf
brother, but he never let anyone know it."
     There are some government schools for the blind and deaf, but they are
few and lack adequate funding. Badillo's National School for the Deaf and Mute
waives tuition for the needy. But the private organization that funds the
school -- Silent Friends Group -- can only afford to accommodate 40 students
at a time.
     Change, Badillo said, also must begin at home. "The parents must be brave
enough to stand before society and the government and demand, `This is my
child, so respect him. I'm not asking. I'm demanding that justice is done. He
is a human being. He is just like any other Mexican citizen.' The parents'
mentality must be that they are proud of their child."
     For many families here with disabled youngsters, however, life is not
just about standing up for their children. It is a bigger, more basic struggle
with incredible poverty.
     What Muniz left behind in Mexico City's impoverished Iztacalco
neighborhood is a tin roof over four rooms of crumbling concrete. It is home
for 12 members of her extended family.

07/27/97 -- Copyright (C) 1997 The Washington Post [Article 289795, 72 lines]

                                 MARY McGRORY
                                 Giuliani Envy
                                By Mary McGrory
  It has not been a particularly marvelous week for the Republicans. In the
House, a small band of sophomores led a clownish abortive coup against Speaker
Newt Gingrich, inexplicably joined by Gingrich's top lieutenants. On the
Senate side, Republicans were on the defensive for the first time in the
campaign finance hearings, as former party chairman Haley Barbour tried to
explain how Hong Kong money made its way into GOP coffers in the 1994
congressional elections.
       One of their number, however, was a class act. New York Mayor Rudy
Giuliani distinguished himself in his prompt and merciful dealing with the
tragic situation of a group of deaf-mute Mexican immigrants who were being
enslaved in Queens. The Mayor plunged into the thick of it and began defending
the defenseless. He saved the poor wretches from the clutches of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service (deportation) and the NYPD (jail). He
put them up in a motel in the name of the compassionate people of New York
     It was brilliant, and breathtaking. Citizens of the District of Columbia
looked on with envy of the deepest, most mordant sort.
     His Honor acted without regard for the poor wretches' immigration status.
He has long since taken a position not endorsed by his fellow Republicans --
that legal, or illegal immigrants are fellow members of the human race, to be
helped when they are in trouble. This may explain why Giuliani, who took hold
of a city regarded as ungovernable and has made it a nice place to live, is
not often   mentioned in GOP circles as a candidate for national office.
      While Giuliani was dealing with a real problem within his jurisdiction,
our mayor, Marion S. Barry Jr., was taking off for a summit in Zimbabwe. The
mayor of Washington was faced with his own crisis: Amid the mountain of
luggage that he and the District's first lady, Cora Masters Barry, took with
them, one vital piece was missing -- the one with his fancy African attire,
kente cloth and all that. Our mayor is a dandy.
     Mayor Giuliani is always thinking about his city. He set out to restore
morale, pride and civility. He started out by tidying up the roadways from the
airport to Manhattan, a gesture to let people know that he wants to make a
good first impression on travelers. Our mayor cannot even keep up with the
weeding of the supposed flower beds in the middle of Connecticut Avenue.
     Giuliani has tidied up Times Square, too. He is persuading New Yorkers
that politeness is okay, that "thank you" and "excuse me" are not signs of
     Most spectacularly, he has presided over close to a 39 percent drop in
New York's major crime rate since 1993. He began small, instructing police to
arrest petty offenders, like turnstile jumpers. It turns out that people who
commit small crimes often commit larger ones. Washington is a different story.
Despite a huge police force, crime -- except for homicide -- is up.
     There is no shaming Mayor Barry. Senators, who come here and recoil from
the Third-World conditions, berate him at every public rum they can find. He
pays no heed. They complain about dirty alleys, deep potholes and a general
sense of things being out of control. Major departments have been given over
to court-appointed receivers. Washington Post reporter Michael Powell, in a
series of articles last week about the diseased innards of D.C. government,
showed once again what everyone knows: Namely, that it isn't money that's
wanting, it's management. The financial control board has attempted to bring
some order to the District's finances, but the mayor still slips contracts to
his buddies. The government is not only overstaffed with trusty Barry voters,
but top-heavy. The police department and the public school system suffer from
the same problem -- too many desk jobs. People who should be walking beats or
teaching children are shuffling papers.
     Mayor Giuliani doubtless gives jobs to his friends, too. The difference
seems to be that in New York municipal workers are expected to pick up the
garbage, keep the traffic lights working, fill the potholes and give the time
of day to citizens who apply for permits and licenses.
     Giuliani is not considered lovable. Critics call him a bully. He has a
monster ego, and he was petty and vindictive in forcing out Police Chief
William Bratton for no other visible reason than that the chief was getting
more credit than he was for the dramatic drop in the crime rate. D.C., at this
point, would love a bully like him.
     Mayor Barry speaks coyly of running again. His record is abominable, but
he will play the race card again (the city is nearly 70 percent black) and we
may be in for another four years of misrule. It's the difference between
having a real mayor and one who only plays a mayor on TV.

07/30/97 -- Copyright (C) 1997 The Washington Post [Article 290001, 56 lines]

          Smuggling Rings in Two Cities Allegedly Traded Deaf Vendors
                                By Roberto Suro
                         Washington Post Staff Writer
     Smuggling rings in Chicago and New York frequently traded deaf Mexicans
as part of a nationwide conspiracy to exploit the illegal immigrants, who were
forced to peddle $1 key chains and other trinkets, according to federal court
     In one case, a deaf woman identified as "Ana" was exchanged for three
men, but when one of the men proved violent, the smugglers who had traded Ana
demanded her back, the documents said. Ana's new bosses refused the refund,
and eventually the unruly man, a deaf illegal immigrant, was simply abandoned
in the streets of New York, according to the documents.
     The smuggling rings have operated for nearly 10 years and were founded in
Chicago, according to complaints and affidavits filed in U.S. District Court
there following the arrest in recent days of three persons alleged to be among
the originators of the scheme. Nine others have been arrested in New York. The
man identified by the deaf Mexicans as the boss of the operation, Renato
Paoletti-Lemus, remains a fugitive.
      The smuggling ring in Chicago allegedly operated similarly though on a
smaller scale than the one in New York. Another such ring was uncovered in
North Carolina last week. The new court documents depict a large and
long-standing conspiracy that also included an illegal border-crossing
operation based in Southern California, recruiters who preyed upon recently
arrived illegal aliens in Los Angeles and smugglers who transported the deaf
Mexicans from the West Coast to Chicago and New York by bus and plane.
     "We believe we have established strong evidence of links between the
operations in Chicago and New York, and there are indications of links to
activities in several other cities which we are pursuing," said Russ Bergeron,
a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
     Investigators first learned of the deaf Mexicans' plight 10 days ago when
four of them walked into a police station in Queens and reported living and
working conditions that New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani described as
"virtual slavery." A total of 55 people were allegedly held by an
alien-smuggling ring that forced the Mexicans to work long hours selling
trinkets on the subways, seized most of their money and subjected them to
various forms of physical abuse.
     Police found nearly $55,000 in cash in two houses in Queens where the
deaf peddlers were being held, including more than $10,000 in $1 bills, the
court documents said.
     Several of those alleged to have operated the New York ring and some of
the West Coast operations are described as close relatives of Paoletti-Lemus,
including his sister Adriana, 29, who is in custody in New York charged with
coercion and grand larceny.
     Renato and Adriana Paoletti-Lemus allegedly learned the racket from a
couple depicted in the Chicago documents as the first to use deaf Mexicans who
were in the country illegally to sell trinkets. Norma Alcantana, who is deaf,
and Frank Dueno, who is not deaf, allegedly originated the scheme in Chicago
in 1988 or 1989. More recently, they are alleged to have traded trinket
vendors with the Paoletti-Lemus. In custody in Chicago, they are charged with
transporting and harboring illegal aliens.
     The alien identified as "Ana" said that nearly four years ago, Dueno and
Alcantana smuggled her into the United States and started her working in
Chicago selling trinkets, collecting the proceeds of her sales every day. Last
summer, she said Alcantana drove her and several other deaf Mexicans to a city
in North Carolina where they plied their trade for several days.

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