A former Salt Lake City postal employee is awaiting trial on federal charges she destroyed or discarded mail in connection with the disappearance of at least 60 federal immigration documents bound for residents of eastern Nevada.
Diana K. Molyneux was indicted by a grand jury in 2019 on two counts of destruction or delay of the mail. The crime, a violation of Title 18 Section 1703 of the United States Code, is punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison.
An April 6 hearing was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and a new date not yet been set.
As first reported by The Nevada Independent, Eloisa Mendoza, director of Elko Hispanic Services — a resource center for immigration paperwork and translation services — discovered the problem in 2018, when clients from Elko, Spring Creek, Lamoille, Battle Mountain and West Wendover told her they were not receiving legal permanent resident cards (green cards) and work permits for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
“For some people it just brought a fear, and some people actually got sick because of the stress,” Mendoza told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview Friday.
“They thought if they didn’t have the green card that … immigration or someone was going to do something to them.”
Mendoza and community members connected the delayed mail to the Salt Lake City post office through shipping tracking numbers.
Because it typically takes nine months to a year to renew a green card or legal permanent resident card, the Nevada residents didn’t realize something was wrong until the expiration dates for their documentation were coming up.
Mendoza said about 60 of her clients were affected by the lost mail, but estimates that hundreds of people suffered because of this.
During this time, some immigrants lost jobs because they couldn’t prove their legal status to work in the United States. Others worried about out-of-country plane tickets they had already booked — thinking they wouldn’t be able to return to the United States if they left. Some were also unable to renew their driver license if it expired at the same time as their green card.
Mendoza said she assured clients that it was legal for them to remain in the United States, even if their physical documentation had expired, but she said it was “a nightmare for a lot of people.”
“It was more just a fear of what could happen to them if they couldn’t prove that they were legally here,” she told The Tribune.
Mark Alvarez, a West Valley City immigration attorney, confirmed the residents would still have had legal status. “If the person was approved for an alien registration card — a lot of people call them green cards — that person’s no longer undocumented.”
The experience was also stressful because some people had to restart the green card and work authorization renewal process, Mendoza said. They also had to prove to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) that they were not at fault for the lost documentation, including presenting letters from the postal service confirming that the mail was never delivered.
But some people did have to pay for a green card or work permit again — which costs up to $1,000 in total fees when including the price of traveling to Salt Lake City for biometrics.
Mendoza said her clients were able to get help when Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Rep Mark Amodei, R-Nev., intervened, encouraging USCIS offices to get the cards back more quickly, but the process would still take months.
Several Elko residents contacted Sen. Cortez Masto’s office in the summer of 2018 about a delay in receiving the immigration documents, and she followed up with a roundtable discussion where she heard more complaints.
“When I learned of the challenges being confronted by members of the Elko community, I had to act,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.
She reached out to the Postal Service, which had already started an internal investigation that would connect Molyneux to the immigration documents.
Molyneux was removed from work, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah picked up the case for prosecution.
“I’m pleased the inspector general of the Postal Service acted swiftly in this case,” Cortez Masto said in an email.
She said she is “proud to have worked to ensure that these Nevadans could get their sensitive documents reprinted and mailed at no additional charge.” Cortez Masto helped about 20 Nevadans replace the documents and pick them up from her Reno office.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said prosecutors are unable to comment because the case is pending.
Molyneux’s defense attorney Wendy Lewis said her client has pleaded not guilty. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Molyneux’s possible or alleged motives in the case.
Mendoza said she was relieved most of the residents have obtained their documents, but a few DACA recipients still haven’t received their work authorization.
Mendoza said the case has “devastated some lives.”
“These people are legally here,” she said. “They went through the legal process to be able to be here.”