Carlos Portillo-Tobar had a lot to worry about as he waited to be deported to El Salvador. High on the list was how to pay the men who helped him sneak into the United States.
"The coming over is a very dangerous trip," he said, through an interpreter, as he sat in a holding cell in early November. "You have to pay to get across from Mexico to the U.S. I still owe money from the crossing."
Sentenced to time served for illegal re-entry into the U.S., Portillo-Tobar, 34, was one of 51 people charged federally in Western Pennsylvania in 2012 for immigration-related crimes. That's a tiny fraction of the volume of cases seen in southern border districts. But on top of 2011's local record of 85 immigration-related federal cases, it suggests that the revolving door of immigrant justice has come to Pittsburgh.
The Obama administration has said that the nation's apparatus for detecting, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants is busy rooting out dangerous elements ...
Hailing from the agricultural town of Caserio los Conacastes, and the father of a now-11-year-old girl, Portillo-Tobar could find no work in his hometown. He didn't want any part of the criminal mega-gangs, with tens of thousands of members, that dominate Salvadoran cities.
Around 2006, he sneaked into the U.S. and found work in Texas, first chasing storms for the resulting roofing work, then learning masonry. "I was able to support my family while I was working," he said.
In 2009, he was caught and deported. Back home, he tried to make a go of the farming life.
"I had saved some money, so I just worked in the fields, growing corn," he said. He added a boy, now 1, to his family ...
Because he had little money, he and a friend sneaked from El Salvador to the Mexican border on their own, but there's only so far you can go sitting on top of trains. Smugglers got them across the border ...
On June 10, Portillo-Tobar "was a passenger in an automobile that was involved in a traffic accident on Interstate 79," in Butler County, Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Picking said at his sentencing hearing.
The car hit a deer ...
By the time he got home on Dec. 14, his incarceration had cost government agencies an estimated $14,000, based on the system's average costs of $79 per inmate per day ...
Last year the Obama administration and ICE issued another set of guidelines allowing prosecutorial discretion in cases involving young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. Some have been allowed to stay.
The guidelines don't apply, though, to people who sneaked in on their own as juveniles ...
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Updated Through March 4, 2010
Entry of alien at improper time or place; misrepresentation and concealment of facts
Reentry of removed alien