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Brownsville officer acquitted of smuggling boyfriend

September 18, 2018

A federal jury in Corpus Christi last week acquitted a Brownsville police officer accused of attempting to smuggle her undocumented immigrant boyfriend north to Victoria.

Valerie Rivas was charged with conspiring to move and transport undocumented immigrants by motor vehicle between Feb. 20 and 26; with intentionally concealing Jose Raul Perez-Brasoria, an undocumented immigrant; and with harboring her boyfriend, Alfonso Salazar-Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant, between Jan. 1, 2014, and Feb. 20.

Defense attorney Micah W. Hatley, Rivas’ court-appointed attorney, said that to his recollection, the jury deliberated just 70 minutes before reaching the not guilty verdict on all three counts.

“The conspiracy charge, the overtone of the whole case, was that somewhere, some way, the government believed that Ms. Rivas was involved in conduct that was somehow criminal in nature solely because she had a relationship with a young man that was somebody they alleged to be an illegal alien,” Hatley said.

According to Hatley, Rivas and Salazar-Hernandez grew up together. The pair attended elementary school together and began dating in junior high, he said. Rivas and Salazar-Hernandez, who worked construction, had been living together, Hatley said.

“While this is over for her, she has still lost somebody she cares a lot about because he’s going to be deported from the United States,” Hatley said. ”There’s a lot to say about a child brought here at a young age, I guess that is not a Dreamer, whatever that definition now means, trying to make a living while stuck in a paradox, or a purgatory, as to who he is as a citizen.”

According to the criminal complaint filed against Rivas, the government accused her of conspiring to smuggle her boyfriend of 12 years, who was born in Tabasco, Mexico, along with a group of seven other undocumented immigrants who illegally crossed into the U.S., spent two days walking through brush, then utilized rafts to cross the Brownsville Ship Channel to South Padre Island, where they then walked for two days north with only two gallons of water for the group.

The group walked on the beach by night and through the dunes during the day, and eventually split up as some went in search of food and water or in search of Border Patrol to turn themselves in, according to the criminal complaint.

When Border Patrol agents arrested the person who was supposed to pick up the immigrants, Rivas, who the government claimed was aware of the smuggling operation, went to go find her boyfriend.

Border Patrol agents arrested Rivas on North Padre Island National Seashore after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter searching the area for the immigrants spotted her and another man hiding in dune vegetation, according to the criminal complaint.

Hatley, the defense attorney, said he believes the acquittal shows that the government failed to prove that Rivas conspired to smuggle anybody north.

“There was no evidence that she had made any agreement with another co-conspirator in the planning or execution of the smuggling event,” Hatley said.

Instead, Rivas did what anyone who had a loved one in danger would do, she went to find her boyfriend and help him, Hatley said, describing her actions as humanitarian.

As for the charge regarding Perez-Brasoria, Hatley said there was no evidence that she ever knew the man or had seen him before. Authorities discovered Rivas and Perez-Brasoria hiding in the dunes.

“The testimony would show that when he was out there, he had never met Ms. Rivas, never seen her before, never had even heard her name,” Hatley said.

There was also no evidence that Rivas directed Perez-Brasoria to hide in the dunes or that she assisted him in hiding in the dunes, he said.

Hatley said the jury may have believed Rivas hid in the dunes because she was afraid of losing her job or the person she loved to immediate and unwavering deportation as opposed to Rivas trying to commit a federal offense.

As for the harboring charge, Hatley said the government alleged that by the nature of living, or cohabitating, with her boyfriend, who was undocumented, that Rivas was illegally harboring an undocumented immigrant

“ In my opinion, that is simply not a violation of a law, but it can be debated one way or another,” Hatley said. “But the only evidence presented at trial is they had lived together as a couple.”

The jury agreed.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

A more complete version of this story is available at www.myBrownsvilleHerald.com

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