In the United States, an illegal alien cannot be charged criminally, or incarcerated, for being undocumented. It is not a crime.

However, getting caught entering the United States illegally at the border is a different story. It is a misdemeanor for an alien who enters or attempts to enter America at any time or place other than designated by immigration officials. It is punishable under federal law by no more than six months of incarceration and up to $250 in civil penalties for each illegal entry.

I felt it was important for readers to know the distinction between the two scenarios. The confusion for some readers may be in the legal difference between improper entry and unlawful presence.

After accepting a guilty plea from a local farmworker for illegal re-entry into the United States, U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa uttered the following words, to the surprise of some: “I hope, by some miracle, you can be allowed to stay.”

That miracle never came even though the man had been in this country for 25-plus years

After being in the custody of Border Patrol and then detained in Batavia, he never again got to experience the comfort of his own home and was sent back to Mexico.

The place where he grew up was so poor and food-deprived that, as a child, he had to help support his family. He dropped out of school before the age of 13.

The purpose for many heading to North America, including this man, is basic survival and not committing crimes.

He was a well-liked member of his community who worked hard. As an undocumented worker, he — and so many others — contribute to the Social Security system even though they will never benefit from it.

What led to his deportation is sad and, at the same time, disturbing.

The farmworker in this story was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped in our area by a state trooper. The traffic stop was initiated because the driver allegedly was not wearing a seatbelt. The trooper asked everyone in the vehicle for ID. The farmworker had none. He was detained by Border Patrol, who learned he had been deported previously.

This trooper and many of his colleagues routinely disregard a 2014 New York state executive memorandum and directive from Gov. Cuomo that says troopers are not supposed to use traffic stops as a pretext to detain undocumented immigrants.

Why should this matter to readers? Because immigrant farmworkers, like the one I am writing about, are some of the only people willing to work the long hours of manual labor in the fields and dairy farms to put food on all of our tables. Agriculture’s labor shortage is at a crisis level, with farmers losing crops and income because there aren’t enough people to assist at harvest time.

“Immigration reform is a tough issue, but we cannot avoid it any longer,” says Vince Duvall of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Instability in our farm workforce places American jobs and American-grown products at risk. We need members of Congress to work together to ensure Americans have access to a safe, sustainable supply of U.S.-grown food.”

Ed. note: The name and location of the local farmworker is being withheld in order to protect his extended family, many of whom still live in the region.

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