July 22, 2008

Stanton couple confess to immigration fraud

Some 420 Mexican workers who were brought into the Permian Basin legally, then illegally "rented out" in a 2003-06 immigration fraud scheme.

by Bob Campbell
Midland Reporter-Telegram

Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 3:15 PM CDT

Some 420 Mexican workers who were brought into the Permian Basin legally, then illegally "rented out" in a 2003-06 immigration fraud scheme, have been accounted for and many are back in the area working legally, authorities said Monday.

Stanton golf course and landscape company owners David Wayne and Nancy Mintle Decker pleaded guilty Friday to charging the workers and 10 area employers to bring them here from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and let them work for the unauthorized businesses.

When sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert Junell at 2 p.m. Oct. 1, Decker, 51, is expected to get 2 1/2 years in federal prison while his 45-year-old wife receives three years' probation. They also will be ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution.

If convicted in the jury trial scheduled to begin Monday, they could have gotten five years each and been fined $250,000 along with being ordered to pay restitution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Klassen said the couple's guilty pleas ended an investigation indicating employers who averaged paying the Deckers more than $10,000 each did not know the H2-B visa program prohibits legal immigrants from working for any employer other than the one making the application.

"We took statements from dozens of workers, all of whom explained how everything worked," Klassen said, adding each paid the couple from $300 to more than $1,000 to get into the country. "We don't believe the other employers had as full an understanding of the rules as the Deckers did.

"It was difficult to reconstruct because it was off the books for both sides, but after some negotiation and back and forth, we came to the mutual recognition that $150,000 is a reasonable estimate.

"The workers had visas, but the terms were violated. Many returned home and my understanding is quite a few are back here on other legitimate H2-B visas.

"If we're ever going to maintain control of our borders, the various rules and regulations concerning visas have to be followed fairly strictly."

Houston defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin said the owners of the nine-hole Decker Golf Pro course and Decker's Farm Supply & Nursery "are awfully nice people who started off trying to do this right.

"As soon as word got out they were bringing in workers, they were inundated with people wanting them to do it for them," said DeGuerin. "A lot of those they brought in were real workers on real jobs, but it got out of hand and they did some wrong things.

"We thought going to trial was not the right thing to do. They've adopted six kids and Nancy will be able to take care of them."

DeGuerin said the golf course is for sale, but Nancy Decker will operate the landscaping business while her husband is incarcerated.

"David has no criminal history," the attorney said. "This is kind of a bump in the road. He has a lot of friends and customers who believe in him. He is the tree man of West Texas."

Noting many of the workers were used at Lajitas Resort & Golf Club on the U.S.-Mexico border, DeGuerin said, "Ninety-five percent of the ones who come here are honest, decent and hard working and no threat to our security.

"This immigrant hysteria is like the red scare of the 1950s. It doesn't serve us at all because this country could not run without immigrant labor."

The Deckers' Nov. 28, 2007, indictment said they requested 100 workers in February 2003 and were granted 96 by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security.

They sought 100 in October that year and were authorized 69, asked for 100 and garnered 98 the next March, applied for 100 and got 63 in January 2005, requested 25 and gained 24 in September 2005 and sought 100 and were given 67 in March 2006, the indictment said.

The Deckers said the men each would work for them for a maximum of 10 months transplanting trees and landscaping "in the immediate service area of Stanton," the document said.

"In truth and fact, the Mexican nationals did but a few days' work for the Decker businesses, if any at all," it said.

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