Angelica Faviola Sarat-Gonon, a Guatemalan mother of three, was the only detainee to take the stand in front of a federal judge Thursday morning. Sarat-Gonon’s appearance in court came after turning herself into immigration authorities when she first crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in April.
Because she was with her family, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her and her children with a notice to appear in court next year. Yet during its raids of several Mississippi poultry plants in early August, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took her back into custody.
On the day of the raids, Sarat-Gonon, 29, was in her car with her brother and niece in the Koch Foods parking lot.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent David Boyd testified Thursday that she was hiding in the car, with the doors locked and windows rolled up. Boyd said that Sarat-Gonon “was not concerned about the child”, referring to her niece. He added that the child required medical attention, having nearly fainted.
Following Boyd’s account, the shackled 29-year-old took the stand to give her side, speaking through an interpreter. Her attorney asked if she could testify without the handcuffs so she could speak with her hands, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson denied the request.
At the stand, the defendant denied Boyd’s assertions, saying she had kept the child hydrated with the windows rolled down.
When asked about her life in Guatemala, Sarat-Gonon explained through tears that her parents died when she was just 7. She said she wasn’t able to attend school after becoming pregnant at a young age.
Upon entering the U.S., she immediately turned herself into authorities in El Paso, Texas. She was then released with her three children, ages 10, 5 and 4. Yet in the next two months, en route to Morton, she purchased a car and took a job at Koch Foods using a false identity, prosecutors said, both violations of her release.
Those violations, prosecutors said, were why ICE took her back into custody despite her notice to appear in court.
When asked to verify her address, Sarat-Gonon said she didn’t know enough English to know if it was the correct information. Before the raids, she was living in Morton with her sister-in-law and a friend, who are now watching her children.
Despite the support of those two, Anderson said she hadn’t heard enough evidence that Sarat-Gonon wouldn’t pose a flight risk. The judge denied her bail.
That ruling was a constant theme that morning, as Anderson denied bail to three other former Koch employees because they either posed a flight risk, a danger to their community, or both.
One of the defendants, Julio Diaz-Lopez, called a witness to testify. His friend, Julia Gaytan, said that Diaz-Lopez had assisted her and her disabled son after her husband died from cancer a few months ago. Diaz-Lopez would accompany her to church, mow her lawn, and help feed her son.
Anderson said that while he presented no danger and has community ties, there was not enough evidence Gaytan could serve as Diaz-Lopez’s custodian to make sure he’d show up to trial. As with other defendants, Diaz-Lopez’s use of a fraudulent identity served as evidence that he posed a flight risk.
The hearings for workers arrested by ICE in early August carried into the afternoon Thursday and will continue Friday morning at the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse. Agents initially apprehended nearly 700 workers at meat processing facilities across Mississippi.
Alex Rozier, a native of New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data reporter. He analyzes data and creates visuals that further inform our reporting. He also reports on the environment, transportation and Mississippi culture and is a member of the engagement team. Alex, whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe and Open Secrets, has a bachelor’s in journalism from Boston University.