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Former Gang Life Could Lead to Deportation

Federal and local officers arrested 58 people in a four-day sweep of suburbs north of Chicago late last month. Immigration officials are calling it the largest dragnet targeting foreign-born gang members in Illinois history. But others say some of the detainees didn't deserve to be targeted and don't deserve what's likely in store for them now: deportation.

Chicago Public Radio's Chip Mitchell has more.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the dragnet captured 37 illegal aliens.

COUNTS: These are individuals who are known gang members or associates, many of whom have criminal convictions in addition to gang membership.

Agency spokesman Tim Counts says the other 21 detainees are permanent U.S. residents, but eligible for deportation just the same.

COUNTS: You are welcome here as a guest, whether it's for a two-week vacation or to live here your entire life as a green-card holder. But, if you commit certain crimes, the deal is off. You go home.

The permanent residents include 36-year-old Frumencio Acevedo of Round Lake. Acevedo has lived in suburbs northwest of Chicago since arriving from Mexico City at age 4. He has 10 siblings. Before retiring, his father ran a press punch in a Barrington factory. His mother cleaned rooms in a Lincolnshire hotel.

Acevedo's gang activity began around the time he dropped out of school in ninth grade. He says the family had been living in an Elgin apartment complex claimed by African American gangs. He talked about those years by phone from the Dodge County Detention Facility in Wisconsin, where he's being held.

ACEVEDO: I needed somebody to help me with these other gangs, which we considered to be jumping, which is being chased and beaten down my more than three or four members. And that's where I found my rescue was in a gang.

COUNTS: Mr. Acevedo knew what he was doing when he joined the Latin Kings gang.

That's Tim Counts, the immigration spokesman.

COUNTS: He knew what he was doing when he was convicted of narcotics racketeering back in 1993, when he was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon in 1992, when he was convicted of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia in 2000. Our involvement in this man's life is the result of his actions.

ACEVEDO: I don't deny that I've made mistakes in the past in my life, but I believe I've already paid to society what the consequences were, by paying fines, by going to prison.

Acevedo served a year and a half for the narcotics-racketeering conviction. When he got out, he says he broke from the gang and started to turn his life around. Acevedo earned his high-school diploma and then a broadcasting certificate.

His big break came three years ago, when he got hired by WLEY-FM, a Spanish-language station in Chicago known as La Ley. This year the station made him a producer of its morning-drive show.

Ambi: Radio announcer.

Acevedo says he should be allowed to stay and continue his work.

ACEVEDO: Not only because it's a dream job that I've always dreamed of having, but also because I'm helping out the communities now.

La Ley sports reporter Liz Jiménez says the station has put Acevedo on the air a few times to tell young people what he's learned.

JIMENEZ: Gangs are not good for anyone. But also to the parents -- to keep in touch all the time and keep an eye on their sons and daughters.

Acevedo and his wife have lived in their Round Lake house for almost seven years. The police detective who heads the village's anti-gang efforts says she's never heard of Acevedo and has no idea how he ended up among targets of the dragnet.

Immigration authorities declined to tell us how. But Tim Counts, the spokesman, says it was no error.

COUNTS: We're saying that those we targeted were known to have gang affiliations and that the gang lifestyle is a threat to public safety. And that includes Mr. Acevedo.


COUNTS: Ask any law-enforcement officer and they will say that it's fairly well known that, once you're in the gang, it's difficult if not impossible to leave.

In deportation proceedings, Acevedo's biggest legal problem may not be the gang-related convictions.

VALENZUELA: This is the irony of the whole case.

His attorney is Claudia Valenzuela of the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center.

VALENZUELA: He can waive his more serious offense from 15 years ago -- the narcotics offense -- but he cannot waive a misdemeanor offense from 2000.

That's when he pled guilty to possessing a marijuana pipe and less than 2.5 grams of the drug.

JONES: I'd say that Mr. Acevedo has had plenty of opportunities for redemption.

Rick Jones serves on the board of the Chicago Minuteman Project.

JONES: And I'd say Mr. Acevedo is getting off pretty easy if all he's getting is a free ticket back to Mexico.

If an immigration judge orders his deportation, Acevedo could bring the case to an immigration board and, later, a federal appeals court.

I'm Chip Mitchell, Chicago Public Radio.


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