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Immigration

Six women in hand and leg restraints are escorted into the Federal Building in Lincoln on Aug. 9 as people who were swept up in a widespread immigration sting a day earlier prepared to appear before a judge.

A 49-year-old woman who used her volunteer position translating Spanish at an O'Neill hospital to steal identities for people here illegally so they could work learned Tuesday her punishment for it.

"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry," Lillian Ajin told the judge through an interpreter. "I know that I made a mistake, and I will never make it again because I adore my children."

She said she knows that they are suffering as a result.

Ajin's five children sat together a few rows behind her, at times wiping away tears.

Last summer, Ajin was one of 18 people and two businesses — JP and Sons and J Green Valley — indicted in connection to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the O'Neill area involving more than 100 immigrants in the country illegally.

She later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens.

Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods said she recognized that Ajin was, by far, not the worst person in this case.

But she did have a criminal history of similar behavior, Woods said, and was aiding Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, who "exploited hundreds of individuals and defrauded the government of millions of dollars."

"I don't know that it's coming through right now how seriously significant this conspiracy was or the impact to the community of O'Neill and the surrounding areas," Woods said.

She said a lot of people suffered serious exploitation at Sanchez Delgado's hands.

Ajin's attorney, Alberto Silva, said Ajin will be deported and separated from her children. She's ultimately going to have her life changed forever, he said.

"This is a conspiracy that was in this community," he said. "But this is something that goes on throughout the United States and here in Nebraska. And her part in this was minuscule compared to all the co-conspirators that were a part of this."

Silva said there was no evidence Ajin benefited from the conspiracy other than from the income her husband, who she helped get a job, made to support her and her children.

Ajin just knew about it, through the community, and took part in it by leading people into it, he said.

"Because of our broken immigration system, this is an underground or an alternative way of people coming into the United States and working here. And it's a system that's been put in place way before her," the attorney said.

Silva said Ajin, who's been in jail since Aug. 8, already has been adequately punished.

In the end, Chief U.S. District Judge John Gerrard agreed with him and the federal probation officer, who made the same recommendation.

Gerrard said she was a minor participant in the conspiracy and would be sentenced accordingly. He said it was clear to him that the public needs no further protection from her and sentenced her to time served.

At a hearing in November, Woods said Ajin's husband, Pedro Ajin, one of those employed, was prosecuted for illegal re-entry last summer and was caught in recorded jail calls talking about not snitching about what Sanchez Delgado was doing and helping another man get a job with him.

Woods said someone ultimately came forward to the Holt County Sheriff's Office to report that Lillian Ajin stole his identity while helping him fill out paperwork at the local hospital.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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Reporter

Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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