A Mexican woman pleaded guilty Friday to being in the country illegally.
Federal prosecutors say Yolanda Perez-Orozco, 44, had been deported from the United States twice before but was caught living and working in Southeast Alaska.
Employed as a restaurant manager in Petersburg, a local police officer suspected she wasn’t a citizen and investigated, which led to federal charges, according to her attorney Assistant Federal Defender Sue Ellen Tatter.
A federal grand jury indicted Perez-Orozco in January on one count of reentry after deportation, a federal crime that can carry up to 20 years in prison. She admitted to the charge Friday in U.S. District Court in Juneau before Judge Timothy Burgess, but she told the judge she returned to the U.S. to be with her children, who were born in the U.S. and are citizens.
“I understand I broke the law, but I have reasons,” she said.
Tatter said her client illegally returned to the United States to be with her son in California. Her son, a decorated combat war veteran, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq, and he is expected to testify during the upcoming sentencing hearing about how he relied on his mother for emotional and financial support.
Perez-Orozco eventually moved from California to Petersburg when she received a job offer from a franchise restaurant. (Both Tatter and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt said they did not know what restaurant she was working for — Tatter said she believed it had since been closed.)
Schmidt said he will be recommending Perez-Orozco serve a year in prison before she is deported again. Schmidt said the first time she was deported in 2004, she was remanded back to her home country without being prosecuted or having to serve jail time. The second time, she was prosecuted and sentenced to serve six months in prison before being remanded, Schmidt said.
Tatter noted her client’s parents brought her to the U.S. when she was a small child, but she never became a naturalized citizen.
“This happens in many families,” Tatter said, adding that most of Perez-Orzoco’s family members have become citizens.
She is scheduled to be sentenced in Juneau on May 31.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.