James Hector Alcala is apparently pretty sneaky, but not sneaky enough to avoid the four years and eight months in federal prison to which he was sentenced once the authorities caught him. He was almost slippery enough to get away with his crimes of defrauding the federal government, but alas, Alcala, an attorney in Utah who had fled to Mexico under legal persecution for “conspiracy to commit visa fraud and alien smuggling and one count of visa fraud,” disregarded all good sense and attempted to sneak back into the country, according to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune. There are probably those who would say that it could have been out of a sense of duty to his country, knowing he would ultimately come to trial for his misdeeds, that Alcala came back into the U.S., despite what kind of “stay or return” counsel a Salt Lake City white collar crime lawyer might have given him. But we don’t know that Alcala has that much allegiance to America. After all, look at what he’s charged with.
The Utah lawyer’s law firm, a property management company and seven other people (including a former Border Patrol agent and consular employee at the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico) were originally indicted in 2009. The claim against them was that “the group was trying to assist Utah employers in obtaining work visas for their foreign national workers by falsely claiming to federal agencies that they were eligible for visas.” A Salt Lake City white collar crime lawyer might contend, in a relatively rational argument, that there are worse crimes. Indeed, even Alcala’s prison sentence, while hefty at more than four years, isn’t exactly life without parole.
Some immigration advocates who disagree with the current U.S. system might even be tempted to argue that Alcala was a “man of the people,” more like Robin Hood, or Zorro, than a criminal. Except that both of those folk heroes were technically criminals, no matter how much they were popularly celebrated, and as one federal official in Utah states, Alcala’s scheme “came at the cost of an untold number of legal job seekers during one of the worst economic downturns in a century.” It would be difficult for even the most skilled Salt Lake City white collar crime lawyer to argue that Alcala’s actions had no negative impact, however honorable their motivations were.
And even honorable motivations can be called into question in this case. David Zebley, head of the San Francisco office of the U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service said that Alcala’s scheme was “an especially serious abuse of the legal and immigration systems, as it involved a criminal network consisting of eight individuals” including well-connected and educated professionals knowledgeable of the inner workings of the immigration system. Alcala’s Salt Lake City white collar crime lawyer would be hard pressed to disagree.
Still, it’s interesting to consider how Alcala and his gang took matters into their own hands. In some small way, despite their egregious trespassing over the line the law draws in the sand, their actions are inspiring. How often do we talk about change with no action? How often do we read calls for immigration reform that end up nowhere? Alcala was a man of action, and when the law came for him, he faced the music.