Friday, January 04, 2008

Oscar Ayala-Cornejo

Via the NY Times

The authorities say that in violating the law, Mr. Ayala-Cornejo made himself vulnerable to blackmail and assaults on his credibility that could have jeopardized police investigations. “You can’t be a law enforcement officer when you yourself are breaking the law,” said Gail Montenegro, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He did not know he was in the United States illegally, he said, until as a teenager he told his father that he wanted to enroll in a police apprenticeship program.

“I could tell there was something wrong: he just had that look in his face,” Mr. Ayala-Cornejo said. “Like something inside him was a little crushed.”

The next day, he said, his father told him the truth. He could not pursue law enforcement. He could even be deported. “From one moment to the next,” Mr. Ayala-Cornejo said, “all my dreams and hopes are kind of out the window.”

Mr. Ayala-Cornejo could have ultimately gained legal status because his brother was born in the United States, but it would have taken a decade or more, his lawyer says, and he would have had to leave his family in the meantime and return to Mexico.

His father, Mr. Ayala-Cornejo said, came up with a solution: A cousin in Illinois had a son, Jose A. Morales, a United States citizen who had died of leukemia in Mexico. He and Mr. Ayala-Cornejo would have been about the same age, and the family offered to turn over Jose’s birth certificate and Social Security number so Mr. Ayala-Cornejo could realize his dream.

“I didn’t hesitate,” he said. “I was like, ‘O.K., if that’s the best option, then I’ll go for it, because I don’t want to be separated from my family.’ ”

So at age 16, Mr. Ayala-Cornejo switched high schools, registering under his new name. He cut his hair and, abandoning his eyeglasses, started wearing contact lenses. In public, he referred to his mother and father as his aunt and uncle, and he called his siblings cousins. “In a way, I became Jose,” he said, “because I knew there was no going back.”

But in February of this year, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent received a tip that Oscar Ayala-Cornejo had assumed the name of Jose Morales. In May, he was arrested.

Mr. Ayala-Cornejo’s brother, Alexander, who was born in this country and had also joined the Milwaukee police, was dismissed from the department for lying to a federal agent about his brother’s whereabouts, but was reinstated on appeal.

Criminal justice officials say Mr. Ayala-Cornejo’s actions could have put their work at risk, for instance by compromising prosecutions in which he gave testimony. “Asked to testify,” said Mel S. Johnson, an assistant United States attorney who prosecuted the case against him, “the first question is state your name and spell your last name. It would be a false answer immediately.”

“Ironically,” Mr. Johnson said, “if he was a citizen, he would have been considered a good citizen.”

A bill that would have given legal status to illegal immigrants who graduated from high school in this country, as Mr. Ayala-Cornejo did, failed in the Senate in October. Opponents argued that it would reward those who broke the law.

One of the biggest problems our country has, is it's tendency to "other"ing people. To making them less than human because you've never had to, or tried to, put yourself in the myriad shoes they walk in. "Illegals" are a huge scapegoat for this tendency, and it makes me sad, thus the highlighted portion at the end.

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