Spanish Mass at St. Agnes in Greenport was packed as usual last Saturday night, filled with people praying and singing, restless children laughing and cranky babies crying.
But afterward, a young woman panicked. Earlier, she'd agreed to describe to The Suffolk Times what she'd been through over the past year -- a year spent raising an 8-year-old son without the support of her brother-in-law, nephew and cousin.
But when it came time to talk, tears welled up. She changed her mind and declined to comment.
According to Sister Margaret Smyth, director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, the pain and anxiety caused by last year's surprise raids in Greenport by federal Immigration and Customs
Enforcement agents is still strong for many in the North Fork's Latino community.
So is the fear of being raided again.
According to a March 2007 assessment of ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams, released by the Department of Homeland Security, the quota of arrests that each team was required to meet has risen from 125 in 2003 to 1,000 in 2007.
Melinda Rubin, a Hamptons-based immigration attorney, said she's seen the frequency of early-morning raids intensify within the last two years, not only in New York, but all across the country.
Ms. Rubin explained how ICE raids work. "The trigger is someone who's on probation and hasn't shown up to court," she said. "Then the probation department will notify immigration, and the word gets out. They often are looking for only one person with a criminal record or someone with a deportment order. Other people get caught up. It's raid first, ask questions later, and [legal] people suffer as well."
A Brooklyn man, who many Ecuadoreans in the East End reportedly believed was their connection to legal residency, has been arrested on a federal immigration fraud charge, in a case that local lawyers say could involve dozens of immigrants.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District has filed a complaint charging Robert Salamon of Brooklyn with one count of immigration fraud for submitting false information to immigration authorities between 2004 and May 2008. The fraud involved faked work experiences and personal references, among other supposed documentation, the complaint states.
While Salamon has been charged with one count of immigration fraud, attorneys on Long Island and in New York City say they have talked to dozens of immigrants who sought help from Salamon to get green cards. And Rep. Timothy Bishop, an aide of whose has been in touch with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators, said Salamon is alleged to have worked with a ring of people who submitted false applications on behalf of 1,000 immigrants nationwide.
In the complaint, the government says immigrants paid Salamon $17,000 for his help in applying for permanent legal residency.
"It's outrageous," Bishop said. "It's unscrupulous people preying on essentially defenseless people," he said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office won't comment on its ongoing investigation.
Not guilty plea
Robert Salamon, who also went by Sam Salamon, was released on $200,000 bail on May 19 on the immigration fraud charge. His next scheduled court appearance is July 20. He did not return messages and e-mails requesting comment.
But his lawyer, Raymond A. Levites, a former federal prosecutor, said: "My client has pleaded not guilty."
Levites said "having business dealings with people doesn't equate to criminal knowledge and intent."
Levites said he anticipates others to be charged: "It bears emphasis that there are a substantial number of people and one or more attorneys who are alleged to have been involved in these matters and it's open to question as to precisely who did what, and who knew what and when."
Salamon worked with others in an unidentified law office in Manhattan, according to the complaint. A cooperating witness, the complaint said, told authorities that between January 2001 and February 2006 Salamon "assisted clients of the Law Office in evading the requirements of the immigration law for commercial gain."
The witness told authorities Salamon "was responsible for recruiting sponsors whose companies were used to support fraudulent immigration applications," according to the complaint.
The complaint details cases of two clients who say they gave Salamon their personal information and work experience and $17,000 each for applications to adjust their status to become legal permanent residents.
A year later when the two reviewed their files, the clients found their work experience, training and listed occupations to be false, the complaint said. Additionally, it said, their files included experience letters from prior employers for whom they never worked, signatures that weren't theirs, and in one case an altered "case information screen" used by the Department of Labor for processing applications. Both of the applications made them eligible for an amnesty period for immigrants who filed applications on or before April 30, 2001, which they had not, the complaint said.
A voice mail on a number listed on Salamon's card now says: "Due to an audit of the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Immigration, this office is closed at the moment. Please be patient and we will notify you when we will reopen."
Number of victims growing
As authorities continue to probe, area immigration attorneys say they're being inundated with people who say they were Salamon's former clients.
Carlos Piovanetti, managing attorney at Ola of Eastern Long Island Inc. said he's been in touch with dozens of immigrants who say they paid between $10,000 and $20,000 apiece for applications. Most now face deportation orders. "They did it because they're desperate to get employment authorization so they can work legally in this country," he said. "They had no intention of defrauding anyone."
Melinda Rubin, a Hampton Bays attorney, said she works with about 14 immigrants who went to Salamon. "Most of these people don't read and write English. They had no idea what they were signing," she said.