Casinos turned them in to Border Patrol, 3 local patrons say

2013-02-03T00:00:00Z 2013-02-04T08:14:01Z Casinos turned them in to Border Patrol, 3 local patrons sayPerla Trevizo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Workers at local casinos have called the Border Patrol at least three times in recent years to report customers they suspected were in this country illegally.

In the most recent case, a woman was deported in December after hitting a $1,200 jackpot at Casino del Sol Resort.

Before that, in November 2011, a woman says, she and her husband were detained after the husband ordered a beer at Desert Diamond Casino using a Mexican ID.

And in January 2011, a man was turned over to the Border Patrol when trying to claim a slot machine jackpot at Casino del Sol.

Representatives from both casinos say it is not their policy to inquire about legal status. Tucson immigration attorney Maurice Goldman said the incidents seem to be isolated but still called them "troubling."

"Obviously, a casino has any right to report a person who has an ID that is not a legitimate one to their law enforcement," said Goldman, who represents the couple and the man. "But when it gets to the point where they are contacting the Border Patrol, that's where you have to wonder where do they draw the line."

Officials with the Tohono O'odham-run Desert Diamond Casinos said they hadn't heard of the case involving the couple but would look into it.

"Desert Diamond Casinos serve millions of guests annually, many of whom are from Mexico. We are proud to pay our jackpots. Immigration status is never a factor," casino officials said in an email. "We were just informed of two guests claiming to have had an unsatisfactory experience in 2011 and are looking into it. If we find that they were not treated properly, we will take appropriate steps to address the situation."

Mexican Consulate officials met with leaders of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe recently to discuss the incident at Casino del Sol, said the Mexican consul in Tucson, Juan Manuel Calderón Jaimes.

"We have a very good relationship with the tribe and with Peter Yucupicio," chairman of the tribe, Calderón said. "Peter acknowledged it had been a big mistake on the part of tribe law enforcement authorities, that they shouldn't have contacted Border Patrol but instead found a better solution."

Pascua Yaqui tribal officials would not comment on Calderón's statement. The consulate has offered to conduct seminars to inform tribal members and casino employees about its services and the relationship between the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Mexican Consulate, Calderón said.

He said the consulate is not aware of any similar incidents.

"There's a possibility that, given the environment in Arizona with SB 1070 and other laws, people have decided to stay quiet and not report these kind of incidents," he said.

In a prepared statement, the Border Patrol said it works "cooperatively with all our federal, state, local and tribal partners to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in Arizona communities. As public servants, it is our duty to respond to citizen reports as well as other law enforcement requests for assistance."

I.D. questioned

Mirna Valenzuela, a 44-year old Mexican national, hit a $1,200 jackpot in December at Casino del Sol Resort.

When she tried to claim it, a casino employee questioned the validity of her Arizona driver's license and asked for her Social Security number, she said from the small hotel in Agua Prieta, Sonora, where she is staying.

"He then asked if I had a Mexican ID, and, since I didn't, he said to go back the following day with my Mexican passport and an address," she said in Spanish.

Valenzuela's ID was valid. She got her driver's license before 1996, when Arizona issued identification cards and driver's licenses to residents regardless of legal status. The following day, she returned to the casino with her adult daughter. She had already decided how to spend her winnings: pay rent, buy an iPad for her youngest son and help her oldest pay tuition to the University of Arizona.

Valenzuela said the same employee greeted her, even used her first name and told her to wait. After an hour or so, she and her daughter spotted men in green uniforms - Border Patrol.

An agent asked for her documents and arrested her when she said she didn't have any, she said.

Officials from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, which operates the casino, would not comment. But last month, casino CEO Wendell Long told The Arizona Republic they don't seek to determine the legal status of gamblers.

"It's not our policy to report people unless they've committed a serious crime," Long said. "A large portion of our business is Mexican-Americans and Mexicans from Sonora."

He told KVOA Channel 4 he didn't know how the federal government got involved.

Husband detained

Veronica Ayala, 22, and her husband, Anselmo, 26, were at Desert Diamond Casino on Nov. 12, 2011, when Anselmo went to the bar and ordered a beer with his Mexican ID.

He didn't return to the table, and eventually a man approached her to say the guy she was with had been detained by security officers, she said in a phone interview. When she went to ask what was going on, she said in Spanish, a security officer took her to the same holding room where they had her husband. "They then called Border Patrol and said they had two undocumented people," she said.

Ayala said she didn't speak out before because she didn't know there was anything she could do until she heard about Valenzuela's case in the media. The couple are appealing their immigration case.

Mom deported

In the third case, a man was turned over to Border Patrol when he tried to claim a slot machine jackpot at Casino del Sol on Jan. 2, 2011, said Goldman, his attorney.

His immigration case was administratively closed because he has significant ties to the United States.

The man declined a request for an interview.

While he was able to remain in this country, Valenzuela was not. She was sent back to Mexico because she had been previously deported.

Her daughter Zamira Osorio, 25, was released because she qualifies for deferred action. She was brought to Arizona when she was 5 and, under an Obama administration directive, those brought here illegally as children can apply to stay.

Valenzuela's other children - ages 10, 17 and 18 - are all U.S. citizens.

"It's been really hard," said Osorio.

The three oldest take turns cooking dinner, cleaning and caring for their younger brother and Osorio's two children.

"I talk to them almost every day," Valenzuela said. "Have you brushed your teeth yet? Did you finish your homework?"

Osorio said she decided to share her story so it doesn't happen to others.

"There are a lot of Hispanics who gamble at the casino, and they don't have signs saying they don't want undocumented people there," she said. "They don't call Border Patrol when you leave your money there."

On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at azstarnet.com/border

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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