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Siblings face deporation after helping the US Government

The Maya siblings never imagined that helping a government agency could jeopardize the lives they have so arduously worked for in the US. After serving as secret informants for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), these undocumented siblings were set to be deported but recently received a pardon that postpones their deportation date.

According to The Associated Press, the request to set back the deportation process was guaranteed after legislator Maurice Hinchey requested to Congress that Emilio, 34, and Analia, 30, receive guarantees over their legal status in the country.

They cooperated with the ICE and were betrayed

Emilio Maya, and his sister Analia, were living the American Dream. They arrived from Argentina in the 1990s and found their way to a small town in the Catskills. After working in local restaurants and saving some money, they opened a small cafe serving Argentine food, Tango. They were highly esteemed in the community for their volunteer work; Emilio as a volunteer with the fire department and Analia as a translator for the local police department.

However, one thing tormented them constantly: they were undocumented immigrants, who having arrived with tourist visas, had stayed to build a future together.

"We are undocumented"

One day Analia decided to confess her situation to a friend, police officer Sidney Mills who did not think twice about helping them. "They helped the community. I felt it was now the community's turn to help them," said Mills.

In March 2005, Mills coordinated a meeting with two agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), Kelly McManus and Morgan Langer, which resulted in a pact: the siblings would work as secret informants and the ICE would help them get the so-called 'S visa', a rare visa given to people who help the authorities in criminal and terrorist investigations.

"Everything was very clear. That was the arrangement they thought they were making," said Mills.

In the lion's den

The Mayas say they kept their side of their bargain. However, five years later, the ICE turned against them and tried to deport them.

Emilio was never fully comfortable with what they were doing, but the agents seemed cordial and interested only in having them help in cases involving drugs, criminal gangs, human trafficking, prostitution and the sale of fake documents. The siblings were told that the ICE was not interested in working with them to search for undocumented immigrants, but for "big fish, delinquents," and they were told that they could not tell anyone of their role with the ICE.

With that, the Mayas entered the shady world of "secret informants," a world that is often fraught with danger.

In the beginning everything seemed quite simple. They were instructed to collect information from everyday conversations and brief McManus and Langer on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, Emilio continued to be doubtful. Though the so-called 'S visas' are better known as the visas for snitches, the reward proved to be too big and too tempting. They were about to open their cafe and because they were so close to attaining this next step of their dream life, they ignored their own doubts about the possibility of obtaining legal residency.

In February 2006, the agents started to give the Mayas more dangerous missions. Wired with microphones, Emilio was sent to a prostitution parlor to record illicit activity. After this successful escalation of their work for the U.S. government, the siblings were given work permits valid for a year and renewable so long as they continued to work for the agency.

Living in fear

In September 2006, Analia went undercover as an undocumented Mexican, wearing a hidden microphone and working in a cosmetics company in Port Jarvis, helping the ICE investigate whether or not the company knowingly hired undocumented workers. During the next five weeks, Analia lived in a hotel and worked a shift from 7:30am to 3:30pm, ending each day by meeting with the agents and reporting on what she'd learned that day..

However, the long hours were proving to be too draining, and the stress and nerves of getting information was starting to take its toll. She lived in constant fear.

A neck injury resulted in her being told by the doctors to stop working at the factory. Though Analia says she never had to face truly dangerous situations, Emilio did.

There was the time he was sent undercover to a poor district in Newburgh to buy fake documents from a woman named Maria. The woman apparently grew suspicious and took him somewhere else. The agents lost contact with Emilio who, in sheer panic, left the woman and walked for miles before being found by the ICE agents.

In mid-2007, Emilio could no longer take the stress. "We had given them information about a gang, about an illegal smuggling ring, and yet they still didn't give us anything in return." When the siblings decided to confront the agency about the expected quid pro quo, they were told that if they stopped working as informants they would be deported.

The agents asked for more and more

In 2008, the Mayas were asked to help investigate a serious case, involving illegal arms sales and ties to terrorism. They admittedly failed in getting the desired information but did continue to inform the ICE about other activities in the town. However, they were no longer used for undercover operations.

This was a huge relief for the siblings. Their newly opened cafe, Tango, was consuming much of their time and Emilio had recently gotten married and had a young daughter to take care of.

In May 2009, however, they were dealt a low blow: The ICE agents informed them that if they did not collect information related to terrorism and illegal arms sales, they would be deported.

"They told us the information we were giving them was not enough," Emilio said. Analia was furious and decided to tell their story to a regular client a their restaurant, Representative Maurice Hinchey. "Relax," said the legislator. "The government does not use people to later throw them away", he added.

The following week, Hinchey's office began investigating and, according to the Mayas, the ICE stopped calling them. However, their silence turned out to be the proverbial calm before the storm.

On November 17th, 2009, as Emilio left his house to go work at the cafe, he was surrounded by ICE agents and was handcuffed and chained so he could not run. McManus, the ICE agent told Analia that Emilio had lost his status as an informant and would be deported. He was detained for 15 days without any explanation and without being properly charged with any crime.

Panicked, Analia called Officer Mills whio was shocked by the turn of events. He had worked with the police force for 10 years and had ample experience in undercover operations and had worked with the FBI on occasion. Although he had not worked with the ICE previously, his past experience has led him to assume that "the rules would be the same."

"You protect your sources and never renege on a deal"

The ICE now says little of the matter. The only explanation they have provided Rep. Hinchey is that the information provided by the Mayas had not generated any arrests, implying that the risks they took on behalf of the US government, on behalf of their desire to be upstanding citizens, were of little consequence to the ICE.

A community up in arms

The Mayas' story has divided the community of this historic town along the Hudson River. Many people support them, fundraising to help pay legal bills and bombarding Hinchey and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with letters asking them to do something. Hinchey recently proposed a congressional bill asking the Federal government to approve legal residency for the Mayas, but this type of procedure is complex and rarely successful.

On the other hand, the reaction of many within the local Hispanic community has been to shun the Mayas. Formerly loyal customers to their cafe, now go elsewhere. Emilio and Analia are ignored at the supermarket and bank, by former neighbors and friends who feel the Maya's betrayed other Hispanics who were simply trying to build their own American Dream. Emilio was expelled from the soccer team he had played with for years and Analia's friends refuse to answer their phones when she calls in fear that her phone has been tapped.

Emilio knows that if he is deported he will never be able to return to the US and Analia says she is unable to manage the restaurant on her own and is not interested in continuing it without her brother. A risky bet the Mayas made ten years ago as they settled into this community they love, had shown great promise. But now everything is up in the air as they wait on judgement by the law and by their peers.

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Comment by Golden Touch Sound on March 2, 2010 at 11:14am
First of all, my tax paying dollars are use to pay federal,state and local authorities to do there job. Not take or use short cuts by having INFORMANTS to do what they are being hired to do.
So, having pity for what those people got is not going to happen. I think they should deal with all informants like that..... Just a simple DOOR MAT...
Comment by delle on March 1, 2010 at 9:10pm
its sad that they try to do something good and got nothing but a knife in the back. hope things work out for them somehow.

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