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URBANA — A Mexican national who has lived in Urbana since 2005, allegedly using a stolen identity, was arraigned Thursday on seven federal counts, including four related to voting by an illegal immigrant.
Miguel Valencia-Sandoval, 33, who allegedly had been using the identity of a Texas man named Ramiro G. Vasquez, pleaded not guilty to the charges before Magistrate Eric Long at U.S. District Court in Urbana.
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Valencia-Sandoval's arraignment came on the same day that new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in, stressing that the nation needs a "lawful system of immigration."
Sessions vowed to uphold immigration laws that he claimed went largely unenforced during the Obama administration. "We need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public's safety, pulls down wages of working Americans," he said. "If you continually go through a cycle of amnesty (for the undocumented), you undermine the respect for the law and encourage more illegal immigration into America."
Federal authorities declined to comment on whether the voting-related charges were tied to President Donald Trump's ongoing claims of illegal voting.
An affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint said that authorities were tipped off to Valencia-Sandoval's real identity last August when the Piatt County sheriff's office was informed that he had been living under Vasquez's name for about 11 years. Valencia-Sandoval most recently has worked for an Urbana drywall contractor.
Last month, Valencia-Sandoval was arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, when he attempted to re-enter the country with a Texas birth certificate and state of Illinois ID card bearing the name of Ramiro Guerrora Vasquez.
During an interview with agents on Jan. 7, Valencia-Sandoval admitted, according to a federal affidavit, that he was not the true owner of the birth certificate and that in March 2005 he had purchased it from Oscar Guerrero-Vasquez — Ramiro Guerrero-Vasquez's brother — for $50,000.
Valencia-Sandoval, who lives in the 0-to-100 block of Ivanhoe Drive, U, also admitted that he did not have Ramiro Guerrero-Vasquez's permission to use his identity; had used the identity to live in Illinois since March 2005; had obtained driver's licenses, bank accounts and loans for vehicles; had opened two restaurants that have since been sold; and had obtained a lawful permanent resident card for his wife.
The couple has four children, all born in the United States, said his attorneys, Tony and Evan Bruno.
He also acknowledged, the affidavit said, that he is a citizen of Mexico present in the United States without having been legally admitted or paroled.
The affidavit also noted that "fingerprint queries" showed that Valencia-Sandoval had twice before been "encountered" by authorities — it didn't say where or when — without having been arrested.
The indictment alleges that Valencia-Sandoval made a false statement of U.S. citizenship on a passport application in April 2012. Another charge alleges he made a false claim of citizenship in order to vote in an election. Two felony charges of aggravated identity theft, one for using Vasquez's identity to get a passport and another for using the identity to vote in an election, were part of the indictment.
Lastly, he was charged with three misdemeanor counts of voting in an election by an illegal immigrant, for having voted in general elections in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Local federal officials acknowledge the election-related counts are unusual but declined to comment further.
Asked whether Valencia-Sandoval could be deported, Sharon Paul, the public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's office said, "That's a question for immigration."
Valencia-Sandoval faces prison terms of between 10 years and one year for each of the counts, plus fines.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Freres is prosecuting the case, which is tentatively set for a jury trial in April before U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce.
Also Thursday, a separate indictment charged Salvador Garcia-Lund, 27, of the 1700 block of Henry Street, Champaign, with making a false statement of U.S. citizenship and aggravated identity theft in March 2016 on a passport application. He also is charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, an illegal immigrant, on Jan. 4.