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Areli Cruz Ramos

Areli Cruz Ramos

Much has changed along the U.S.-Mexico border since Areli Cruz Ramos crossed it illegally in 2014 in Texas. 

As Ramos, 36, stood between his interpreter and public defender in a Missoula courtroom on Thursday for his sentencing, the federal judge asked the Honduran man a series of questions to punctuate that new landscape for illegal immigrants. It is the second time Ramos has been sentenced for illegal entry into the U.S., last deported in 2011. 

"Have you been following the news?" U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy asked Ramos.

He has, Ramos said through the interpreter.

"So you understand the situation has changed in Mexico and the United States?" Molloy said, then specifying his question applied to the border between the two countries. 

"Yes," his interpreter said again.

The country's attention toward the southern U.S. border has grown considerably more acute in recent years, especially so in the past week with new reports of children in migrant holding facilities, resource shortfalls on either side of the border, and a photograph circulated by the Associated Press of a Salvadoran father and 2-year-old daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. 

On Thursday, the U.S. House sent President Trump emergency legislation drafted by the Senate that would provide $4.6 billion to care for migrant refugees detained at the southern border.

Though far from the southern border, Montana is not exclusively separate from the issue and its many aspects. A photojournalist originally from Guatemala in the U.S. as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient was detained on a train in Malta on Monday and released Wednesday. State and federal officials from Montana have made public appearances at the southern border, largely to address the issue of drugs believed to cross there en route to Montana.

Ramos was sentenced to time served, two months and seven days, on Thursday in U.S. District Court of Montana. He was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to immediately begin deportation proceedings.

"Please do not attempt to come back to the United States unless you have the proper paperwork to return to the United States," Molloy told him.

Ramos was arrested in Gallatin County on a DUI in April. It's unclear if he was working in the area or living with any family there. Federal Public Defender John Rhodes represented Ramos on behalf of another defense attorney assigned to the case; that attorney was not available for comment on Ramos' background on Thursday. 

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After telling law enforcement of his Honduran nationality upon his arrest, Gallatin County Detention Center officials turned Ramos over to the Department of Homeland Security Enforcement and Removal Office in Helena, according to court documents. Ramos had been removed from the United States once before, in 2011, from the Colorado area. This time he told officials he had entered the U.S. in 2014 "by crossing a river near San Antonio, Texas."

"There's no river near San Antonio for 150 miles," a puzzled Molloy said Thursday. 

Through the interpreter, Ramos said he didn't know the river he crossed, just that he arrived first in San Antonio. He did not make any further statement to the court, but he thanked the judge.

The sentence Molloy handed down came recommended by both the defense and prosecutors. Assistant U.S. Attorney Paulette Stewart offered a one-year term of federal probation if Ramos were to return, but Molloy saw no need for it. If Ramos was to return illegally again, his legal situation would certainly be more complicated than signing up for probation, he said. 

"Given the situation with immigration and this current administration, I'm sure he wouldn't get very far," he said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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