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Convicts say you never forget doing time. Mexican national Silvino Florez-Valerio—who was sentenced in Missoula April 11 for repeated illegal entry into the United States—has no recollection of serving a 430-day term handed down by a Utah judge in 1998, when he was 18 years old.

Federal prosecutors can’t prove that he did the stint either.

What they do know is that Florez-Valerio, 28, signed a document acknowledging the incarceration just before he was deported for the first time in 2000. Because he signed the form, Florez-Valerio argues, his status as a legal visitor was revoked.

Now heading for his third deportation and facing harsher times for illegal aliens in the United States, Florez-Valerio claims he signed the form under duress. “They told me that I had no choice… At that time I didn’t speak any English,” Florez-Valerio says. “It was the worst decision I ever made.”

In years past, illegal entry offenders—even the repeating types—simply got deported. Now, as part of a federal crackdown, they’re going behind bars first, and the algorithm for sentencing takes into account time previously served in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy used the formula April 11 to sentence Florez-Valerio to 21 months in a federal penitentiary, a stretch that will cost taxpayers roughly $42,000.

If Florez-Valerio didn’t have a record of incarceration, he’d still be deported back to Mexico—but it would reduce the prison time he faces beforehand. “He’s going to dig in his heels and fight on this issue,” his lawyer, Scott Albers, told the court.

Molloy, however, ruled against Florez-Valerio, saying that the fact a prior judge imposed the sentence—which was handed down for a string of thefts in Oct. 1997—provided evidence enough for him. “Whether he served all of it, some of it, or none of it is not the legal issue,” Molloy said.

The judge urged Florez-Valerio not to attempt another return to America, noting that a third illegal re-entry conviction would carry much stiffer penalties.

“You know what’s going on at the border?” Molloy said. “It’s not pretty.”
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