ITHACA, N.Y. — A man who was taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was sentenced Friday for having a fake green card after he entered and worked in the United States illegally.

José Guzman-Lopez, 32, has been in custody for about six months when Judge Thomas McAvoy sentenced him to time-served. Guzman-Lopez pleaded guilty to possession of a counterfeit alien registration card on July 29.

Guzman Lopez’s lawyer Martin Wolfson, a federal public attorney, said his client made the 2,000-mile trek to the United States to escape the systematic violence that makes his impoverished home in Juxalja, Chiapas, Mexico a dangerous place to live.

According to court documents, his parents, both coffee farmers, sent Guzman-Lopez to a boarding school six hours away when he was 9-years-old. While there, he attended classes and worked, cleaning the school and taking care of animals. He later enrolled in high school and then college.

In college, he was grazed by two bullets during random occurrences of street violence. Court documents state, “He was shot twice during bouts of random street violence that still plagues some Mexican cities. The first time he was shot he was walking to school and a bullet grazed his leg. The second time he was at work when a shootout erupted and a bullet grazed his right shoulder.”

At age 21, he made the choice to come to the United States to escape the systematic violence in Mexico and to provide for his family, court documents state. Guzman-Lopez worked first in Edison, New Jersey for seven months before moving to Ithaca, where he has worked 12-hour days, six days a week for about 11 years.

“He saved everything he could. Everything he didn’t need himself he sent back to his family,” Wolfson said, noting that the phone Guzman-Lopez had in his possession when he was taken into custody was 10 years old.

“America is a country of immigrants,” Wolfson said. “A just punishment for this case is time served.”

“I would like to apologize for my actions,” Guzman-Lopez said in court when given the chance to address McAvoy. “America has been great to me and has provided me with opportunities Mexico cannot.”

McAvoy said Guzman seemed to be a good person who has assimilated well into the Ithaca community, working hard, doing martial arts, and making connections with people. The judge said he received seven letters from Guzman-Lopez’s supporters, nearly 20 of whom showed up to support him during the court proceeding at the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Binghamton.

“If it were up to me, I’d let you stay here. I’m not the judge of that,” McAvoy said.  “I wish you good luck…obviously you’re a good person and I think you’ve been a good citizen since you’ve been here.”

Jose Lopez-Guzman is taken back into custody after being sentenced Friday. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

Guzman-Lopez will serve one year of post-release supervision and must comply with ICE reporting requirements, among other conditions.

After sentencing, Guzman-Lopez was scheduled to be sent back to Batavia Federal Detention Facility where he will have to wait to be heard in Immigration Court.

His friend and supporter Angela McEnerney, said,”I am glad that his time serve counted and that he is, the process is being moved along because now lawyers will be ready to actually step up and work on his case…immigration lawyers can do so little when another lawyer is still working on federal charges.”

She said that money raised from a gofundme account have contributed to retaining a lawyer for Guzman-Lopez. She said that while she was nervous and angry going to court Friday, she’s also glad Guzman-Lopez’s case can continue moving through the court systems.

“Part of me is relieved that now we can take the next step and a lawyer, an immigration lawyer, can actually do something now (for his immigration case),” she said.

McEnerney said she and other friends have kept in touch with Guzman-Lopez,visiting him and trying to help him feel better about being in custody.

Friend and supporter Alyssa Buda said, “I sent him some Dresden Files books. I think Colin gave him some martial arts books about Bruce Lee to read. He really likes heavy metal. I don’t remember any of the bands, but I’ve queued up some metal songs — that I’m not familiar with myself — for him. He always asks about his cat.”

Buda and McEnerney both said that the best thing people can do to support Guzman-Lopez is to stay involved with the case. They realize that can be difficult because he’s in custody at a location that’s far away. But it is something people interested in Guzman-Lopez should do, they said.

They said so many people who were initially involved in supporting Jose have fallen off the map.

“I think if it’s possible to get people involved again, that would be really good,” Buda said.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.