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47 year-old John Barney of Adams is charged with harboring illegal immigrants. He was released from U.S. district court in Syracuse Wednesday on his own recognizance.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were investigating the death of Guatemalan Porfirio Lopez, who apparently fell from a farm fence, on March 20th. According to the criminal complaint, Barney is quoted several times as telling the agents that some of his workers are in the country illegally.
John Duncan is the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case.
"The complaint reflects, at least in a reading of it, that the defendant was aware that they were illegal aliens working on the farm."
The complaint also states that in subsequent interviews, some of the Hispanic workers said they did not give Barney a social security document and that taxes were not being withheld from their paychecks.
That matters because under federal immigration law, farmers must require a social security document of an employee, but they don’t have to prove that the documents are valid.
Jay Matteson is the Jefferson County agricultural coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension. He says he’s been working with John Barney and Butterville Farms since the accident.
"I have very strongly asked the farm ownership, did you follow the letter of the law in making sure that the documents appear to be legal, which is what the farm is required to do. And they have stated up and down, yes."
Matteson says Barney’s arrest has had a chilling effect across the North Country dairy community. He says dozens of farms rely on Mexican and Central American labor to survive.
"Now what they saw today is that even though they do what they’re told to do as far as documentation, they still can be arrested."
If Barney is found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a 250,000 dollar fine.