ALBANY — Two longtime Schenectady residents and Guatemalan natives face federal jail time when they are sentenced Tuesday for lying on applications to remain in the United States.
They also face deportation in separate proceedings.
Attorneys for the siblings — now in their 30s — argued they were brought to the United States as 14- and 15-year-olds by their mother and, except for the immigration papers they were accused of continuing to falsely file as adults, have been model, hard-working immigrants. They have lived in Schenectady since about 2000.
Federal prosecutors acknowledged the siblings came to the United States with their parents but argue their motivations do not excuse visa fraud.
Prosecutors are asking for jail terms of six to 12 months. Defense attorneys are asking for no additional jail time. They face possible deportation in separate immigration proceedings after the disposition of their sentencings.
The cases involve Mario Cardenas, 34, and Jennifer Cardenas, 32, both of Schenectady. A federal court jury convicted them on six counts of visa fraud after a trial in June. They were charged in 2015.
The allegations centered around their claims of El Salvador citizenship, when they were actually born in Guatemala.
Those born in El Salvador are eligible for special temporary protected status in the U.S. — for which Guatemalan citizens are not eligible — because returning to El Salvador may be too dangerous. The fraud allowed the pair to live and work in the Capital Region for more than 15 years.
Their mother, Susana Alarcon Moscoso, who brought her son and daughter to the United States in 1999, pleaded guilty earlier in June to falsely claiming El Salvadoran citizenship. She is also to be sentenced Tuesday.
All three now have children born in the United States: Moscoso has a 14-year-old daughter. Jennifer Cardenas has an 11-month-old son and Mario Cardenas has a 14-year-old son.
Unlike their mother, the siblings took their cases to trial. According to their attorneys, they came to the United States with their mother in 1999 and then arrived in Schenectady around 2000. They have lived in Schenectady since.
They contend they were unable to attend school and instead went to work at a Guilderland diner, where they have worked ever since.
After becoming adults, they continued to re-certify their El Salvadoran connections.
Jennifer Cardenas' attorney, Michael Jurena, argued she filed her paperwork over the years because it is what she thought she was supposed to do. She also believed her birth was registered in El Salvador.
"She had no choice in the decisions that were being made for her," Jurena said of her coming to the United States with her mother. "And as an adult, she again had few choices — either continue filing documents so she could stay, work and raise a family, or choose not to file documents, remain unlawfully and risk getting caught, or return to Central America."
Mario Cardenas' attorney, James Gross, cited letters written in support of him that call him an "extremely hard-working, decent man."
"It was simply not practical for him to go back to Central America, and he was in a nearly impossible situation that was not of his own making," Gross wrote. "It is clear that he resolved to make the best of (the) situation and rely on hard work to better himself."
Prosecutor Jeffrey Coffman, however, used similar words to rebut both siblings's arguments: Both simply wanted to remain in the United States.
"To excuse the defendant's deliberate and successful efforts to deceive (immigration) by lying under penalty of perjury year after year, in order to circumvent the United States' immigration laws, would be to invite others to commit similar offenses," Coffman wrote.