Galdino Sierra, a California sex offender whose family was gunned down in Mexico by rival factions of his Indian tribe, has been sentenced to 37 months in prison for returning illegally to the United States.
Tucson lawyer Roger Sigal says that Sierra, 26, a Chatino from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, may still be eligible for refugee status and allowed to stay in the country after he serves his sentence.
Based on Sierra's "tragic life circumstances," Sierra and Sigal had asked U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury to give Sierra only 14 months in prison.
Bury didn't do that. But Sierra's previous conviction could have meant a sentence of 41 months or more for the offense of returning to the United States after deportation.
Sierra was sentenced in 2011 to two years and eight months for sexual battery and sex with a minor. He served one year before being deported in January of 2012. A few months later, he got caught with two other guys trying to bluff their way through the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19 north of Nogales, Arizona. He's been behind bars ever since.
He and his siblings, who live in California, plus his lawyer, all claim that Sierra keeps returning to the United States because he's in perpetual danger in Mexico. Records show his fear is probably warranted.
Chatinos, some Internet searching reveals, are an indigenous people of Mexico who have struggled with factional fighting in recent decades. A court memorandum filed by Sigal before the August 20 sentencing hearing backgrounds the matter with a history lesson on the struggles between Chatino traditionalist leaders, like Sierra's late father, Cirulo Sierra Salinas, and the "modernos" of the tribe.
A clash over water rights in the rural town of Santa Lucia led to the 1996 murder of Sierra's brother, Pablo, when Sierra was 9. A year later, ignoring threats and traveling to Santa Lucia to visit his son's grave, Cirulo was "gunned down... by the modernos." Sigal attached documents to his pleading from local Mexican police officials who back up the details of Sierra's family history.
Yolanda, Sierra's mom, fled out of town with her family, knowing her sons were viewed as potential successors to Cirulo, a tribal leader. She "sent" her two oldest sons to the United States so they could better support the family. Two years later, she and her oldest daughter, Beatriz, moved to Petaluma, California, where the eldest sons had settled. Another son moved north, leaving Galdino, at 14, in Cerro de Aires to watch over his younger brothers, Jose Luis, 4, and Romero, 7.
Yolanda finally decided in 2003 to try to take the rest of her boys out of Mexico. While in Cerro de Aires, she was attacked by the modernos in her home, beaten, and shot in the chest, according to Galdino and Mexican documents.
"I went crazy because I didn't know what to do or what to tell them," Galdino wrote in a affidavit to the court. "I couldn't do anything for her. She died in my arms."
A week later, the teenage Galdino snuck his two younger brothers over the internationa border and reunited them with family members in Petaluma.
Life did not go smoothly in California for Galdino, who found himself unable to control his creepy side.
He was arrested in 2006 for annoying a child, a felony. He'd made a sexually suggestive comment to a 12-year-old girl, records show. We weren't able to determine if he was convicted, but Galdino was deported to Mexico in 2006. He soon returned to Petaluma and in 2010 was working at a local dog kennel.
One night, in a home attached to the business, Galdino and his buddies were partying with some girls Galdino's younger brothers knew from school. They were between 14 and 16 and shouldn't have been drinking, especially with five dudes, but three of the four girls got wasted. Two of them, including the one police said was fairly sober, saw Galdino in a bedroom having sex with another teen, who was unconscious. At some point during the night, witnesses later told police, Galdino has also cornered a different girl and pulled down her pants.
Galdino pleaded no contest to the charges. He was sent to prison for a year, put on lifetime sex-offender status, and deported again.
Sigal downplays the incident. The sober witness gave conflicting stories to police, he says, saying to one officer that the alleged unconscious woman hadn't been unconscious and had, in fact, told the witness she was "okay" after being caught having sex with Galdino. The second victim in the case couldn't identify Galdino as the one who'd abused her, Sigal says. We weren't able to verify his less-serious version.
Judge Bury appeared to be "moved" as Sierra, with the aid of a translator, told his life story, Sigal says.
But federal law suggests that an "enhancement" be applied to Galdino's sentence because of the sex crime, and Bury hit him with more than three years. Galdino's indignant written statement to the court couldn't have helped:
"Well, it's very clear that he who judges wrongly and without pity shall have to answer to God," reads one excerpt of the religiously themed plea for a reduced sentence. "An unfair punishment mocks justice, and above all, God."
Galdino refers only vaguely to his sex-crime conviction, asking the judge rhetorically, "How can I return what I never stole?"
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Typically, in failure-to-stay-deported cases, the immigrant is deported again after the sentence is up, with the warning that another return to the United States will result in more prison time. But Sigal says it's still possible that Galdino could be allowed to stay in the country because of the danger to his life in Mexico.
"If he's deported," Sigal says, "I can't say he's definitely going to get killed, but if history is an indicator, the chances are very good."
Mexico's a big country, and Sigal admits it's possible Galdino could blend in somewhere far away from Oaxaca, a southern state near Central America. But "I wouldn't feel very comfortable if I were him," he says.
But first, Sierra has to do his three-plus years for fleeing the country where he's a marked man.