If the case of Estela Fajardo offers any tragic irony beyond the fact she spent some three years behind bars before being tried, it’s that she has seemed to confirm arguments of both local immigration advocates and anti-immigration forces. In the pro-immigration camp, she at times epitomized the successful immigrant, even one undocumented for more than 30 years. She owned property, ran businesses, even maintained a cattle spread in Lorena.
Yet last Friday a jury of her peers in all but citizenship convicted her of Class A misdemeanor theft of more than $750 in what officials labeled an obvious fencing operation for stolen property, neatly confirming arguments by those who subscribe to President Trump’s disparaging view of many undocumented immigrants in America (excepting, of course, those whom his business empire has hired). And while the verdict was short of the charges of state-jail felony theft local prosecutors originally sought, Fajardo’s conviction sets her up for deportation.
As veteran Trib courthouse reporter Tommy Witherspoon reported, state District Judge Ralph Strother sentenced Fajardo, 46, to a year in jail and fined her $1,000. However, because Fajardo has been jailed about three years on an immigration detainer, the judge gave her credit for the more than 1,000 days she has been in jail. Next step: the mother of four lands in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials because of a deportation order in place. Her conviction makes it less likely she can fight off deportation.
With the benefit of hindsight, one can argue whether Estela Fajardo was the best example regarding the contributions immigrants can make (and do make) to American society. A much-respected former police detective convincingly testified she broke up a burglary ring, arrested two burglars and traced plenty of property stolen by the men to Fajardo’s Robinson residence. One burglar, now serving a prison term, told jurors he and his partner sold Fajardo from $6,000 to $7,000 worth of goods from their break-ins. He said he didn’t believe Fajardo knew the property was stolen.
Then again, there’s that big-screen TV found in Fajardo’s home that still had brackets and a piece of drywall attached plus two drops of paint that perfectly matched the freshly painted wall from which burglars yanked it.
Fajardo must now answer for more transgressions than running a fencing operation for stolen property. Her 32 years in Waco should nonetheless remind us of our nation’s repeated failures not only in reforming immigration law through legislative compromise (rather than unconstitutional executive orders) but also in addressing the fate of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who live and work here and dare to pursue a slice of the American Dream, even when operating in the shadows. At a time when nearly half of Fortune 500 companies are being founded by immigrants or their children, who knows what success Fajardo might have attained — and what stupid criminal pitfalls she might have avoided — had she not lived so long in those societal shadows?