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Soured house deal exposes illegal immigrant

ROSWELL, Ga. — Like all illegal immigrants, Lorenzo Jimenez knew the knock on the door from immigration agents could come at any time.

Still, he had enough faith in the American dream to buy a house in this Atlanta suburb, even though signing the papers meant raising the risk: He put his 2-year-old, American-born daughter's name and Social Security number on the title.

And it worked, for a while. Jimenez and his family lived happily enough for several years alongside "regular" citizens.

Nicole Griffin's mom lived a few doors away, and when Griffin visited, she said, her kids played with the Jimenez children. When Jimenez put his four-bedroom, two-bathroom home up for sale last spring, wanting more space, Griffin was immediately interested.

A contract was negotiated but when the sale appeared to go sour, Griffin raised a new issue: that she was a citizen and Jimenez wasn't. She told local media, immigration officials, his boss and others that he was here illegally. She even put signs in the yard of the house exposing his residency status.

As a result, agents came knocking last month, and now Jimenez is fighting to keep from being deported. He also lost his job.

"I'm very sad and very worried," said Jimenez, 32. "I can't sleep because I'm thinking about my family. What's going to happen? I don't know."

Griffin insists her intent was to buy the house, nothing else. The 28-year-old single mother of two said that she was wronged first, so she acted to protect her interests. She has no regrets.

"At the end, do I feel bad the family got in trouble? No, not at all," she said.

When Griffin and Jiminez agreed to a deal, closing was set for May 15.

Griffin, a payroll clerk and first-time homebuyer, asked to postpone the closing until June 1 because she had problems locking in her interest rate. Jimenez agreed but asked that she move into the house as planned and pay rent until the closing.

Shortly after Griffin moved in, her attorney said, there was a problem with the title on the house, namely that Jimenez's young daughter's name was on the title but her signature wasn't on the sale documents. Attorneys said some extra paperwork would clear the title, and everyone agreed to postpone again.

Griffin didn't pay the rent, however, saying she was promised three months free since the delay was Jimenez's fault.

Jimenez's lawyer, Erik Meder, told her that offer was never firm and insisted she pay rent or vacate the house.

Locked in a letter war with Meder, Griffin escalated her actions. She contacted the FBI, the Roswell Police Department, local media, the state attorney general's office and the governor's office, among others. She asked her congressman, U.S. Rep. Tom Price, for help. Price's office, in turn, contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Brendan Buck, a Price spokesman.

In early October, plainclothes ICE agents showed up at Jimenez's apartment. They asked him about his residency status and his purchase of the house, then handcuffed him and took him away. He was released a few hours later and is due before a judge in January and could face eventual deportation.

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