MISSION -- State Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, will likely not be sanctioned for hiring an illegal immigrant.
In the wake of a violent slaying on Flores' ranch property north of Mission, local and Mexican law enforcement agencies are tracking a 24-year-old Honduran man who had been living and working there. But federal law enforcement agencies have expressed little interest in pursuing Flores for hiring Froilan Caseres, who authorities said was in the country illegally when he allegedly beat another man to death.
Flores denied any knowledge of Caseres' immigration status. His cell phone was turned off Tuesday and a message left at his home was not returned.
On Monday, he told The Monitor that Caseres had only been doing a few days' worth of work on the ranch, and that because of Caseres' appearance and family connections in the area, Flores did not check his immigration papers.
However, it appeared Caseres had been living in a building on the ranch, and Flores' son told investigators the man had been there as long as three weeks before the killing, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said.
It was unclear whether Flores withheld Social Security or federal income taxes from Caseres' pay.
ON THE RUN
Mexican officials and the FBI were still tracking Caseres in Mexico as Tuesday evening.
Treviño said the man made several phone calls soon after Adin Jaret Rodriguez, a Mexican national in his early 20s, was beaten to death. In one call Caseres made to his sister, he apparently admitted to killing Rodriguez and robbing him.
Caseres caught a ride to the border and was filmed crossing the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge just before 2:45 a.m. Monday. He boarded a bus bound for Monterrey and another to Mexico City, but Mexican authorities have yet to locate and arrest him.
The victim's brother helped county officers locate Rodriguez's body just after 5 a.m. Monday.
"We are assuming (Rodriguez and Caseres) were friends, at least at one time," Treviño said. Rodriguez was not working at the ranch, but the initial investigation indicates he was also in the United States illegally.
The body was found by a small house at the back of the ranch, where Treviño said it appeared Caseres had been living.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
In general, federal immigration authorities must prioritize in deciding which cases to refer to the U.S. attorney's office, said Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE is one of several agencies that would have authority to charge Flores for hiring Caseres. However, Flores' case had not been referred to ICE as of Tuesday afternoon, Pruneda said.
"Issues of worksites and individuals knowingly hiring illegal immigrants is obviously a priority for us," she said.
However, Flores' case would be small-time. In past years ICE has made prosecuting large employers a priority, along with cases that affect public safety or involve substantial fraud.
In 2006, a Houston security company was charged with arming the illegal immigrants it hired to stand guard, falsifying documents and knowingly lying on forms to get the men licensed to carry weapons.
On Thursday, the owner of Texas company Shipley Do-Nuts pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor federal charge of continuing to employ unauthorized workers. The company is expected to plead guilty to illegal hiring and pay a $1.3 million fine.
In late July, Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies alleged Silvestre Delgadillo, an illegal immigrant tasked with guarding a Mercedes convenience store, shot and killed 17-year-old Roberto Garcia as the teen tried to break in to the store. The owner of the business, Olivia Lopez, who employed the immigrant, was not expected to face federal charges at the time.
Some high-profile cases reveal that while there can be consequences when a public official hires an illegal immigrant, those consequences are usually political, not legal. And even the political consequences can be limited.
In 1993, lawyer Zoe Baird - whom President Clinton had nominated to the post of attorney general - withdrew her name from consideration when it was revealed she had hired an illegal nanny and driver. She paid a fine to the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service as well as back income taxes on both.
Christine Todd Whitman, a former administrator of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, also paid back taxes when it was revealed she had sheltered and employed an undocumented couple.
However, the political damage was limited, since her opponent at the time in the race for governor of New Jersey had also used illegal immigrant help without withholding income and Social Security taxes.
Flores does not have an opponent in the November elections and is set to be elected to a seventh term. His political allies in western Hidalgo County are likewise safe from immediate voter backlash: All of the seats on the La Joya school board are uncontested, and Flores' mother-in-law, Irene Garcia, is set to replace opponent Joe Aguilar, who chose not to run.
Other cities within Flores' sphere of influence are not due to hold elections until spring next year.
Flores' violations also do not qualify for oversight by either the Texas Ethics Commission or the Texas House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics.
"That's typically not the type of scenario that the committee has looked at," the committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Larry Phillips, of Sherman, said Tuesday. "If it's something unrelated to their office or their electoral duties, we leave it to local law enforcement and to the voters."