Administrations Ignore Immigration Fraud

David Venturella, a high-ranking leader of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) recently testified at a Congressional oversight hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on or about April 2nd of this year.

The topic of the hearing was “Priorities Enforcing the Immigration Law.”

I believe that it is important to scrutinize what Mr. Venturella had to say for a number of reasons.

First of all, government has become a game of “He said-she said.” People are misquoted all the time. Statements are taken out of context by those with an “axe to grind.” Here we are getting the words from the proverbial “horse’s mouth.”

Second, it is important to remember the various appropriations committees on Capitol Hill are responsible for providing the funding to the agencies over which they are supposed to exercise “oversight.” This is the “power of the Exchequer.”

Finally, as you read what Mr. Venturella said and, just as imporantly, what he didn’t say, I want you to ask yourself this basic question, “Will ICE be able to meet its critical mandates of enforcing the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States to achieve the goals of protecting our nation, discouraging unlawful activities and creating an immigration system that has real integrity?”

See the transcript:

ICE Director Testifies on “Priorities Enforcing Immigration Law”

The effective enforcement of the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States requires that a number of critically important elements be properly addressed. These elements involve more than the reactive approach that was the sole focus of the testimony. What is not discussed is the area of proactive enforcement. Within the proactive realm are a number of extremely important activities that were utterly ignored by Mr. Venturella even though the topic of the hearing was entitled, “Priorities Enforcing the Immigration Law.”

To state this succinctly, if the only interior enforcement issues for ICE were those that Mr. Venturella spoke about at this hearing, then it must be presumed that none of the other critically important issues are even being considered! Clearly the other critically important elements of the interior enforcement program are not a priority for the administration. This leaves me completely thunderstruck!

Certainly it is vital for ICE to identify and act to remove criminal aliens from the United States. In fact, in the early 1980’s, I met with then-New York Senior Senator Alphonse D’Amato. One of the suggestions I provided to him, as did a number of my colleagues at the INS who joined me at those meetings, was to create the “Institutional Hearing Program” (as it came to be called).

Under this program, deportation hearings were to be conducted inside various prisons so that an alien criminal who had been convicted of a felony would have his hearing while he (she) was still incarcerated so that if he appealed an order of deportation, he would have years in which to seek such an appeal. This way, by the time such an alien was to be released upon the completion of his criminal sentence, his deportation order was already finalized and he could, at least in theory, be immediately deported.

Prior to the implementation of this system, criminal aliens could be incarcerated for a decade or more, then the former INS would initiate deportation proceedings that could take years, in some cases, to finalize. Meanwhile the INS was left with two unsatisfactory options. The agency could seek to maintain that criminal alien in an immigration detention facility at great expense and also cause limited detention spaces to be overloaded, or allow a criminal alien to remain at large, pending the resolution of his appeal. This enabled many such criminal aliens to abscond and/or provided them with opportunities to commit still more crimes and injure still more people.

Therefore, I certainly do agree with efforts aimed at removing criminal aliens from our country.

Here is the question, however. How many agents are dedicated to this vital mission? What provisions are being made to deal with aliens who need to be detained if they have not received their final order of deportation before they complete their criminal sentences? How many criminal aliens fall through the huge gaps in the system that cause criminal aliens to either not be identified by ICE or because ICE lacks to resources to work cooperatively with prison officials in many jails around the United States? I would also like to know which countries refuse to provide travel documents (passports) to enable criminal aliens to be repatriated to their native countries. (This is a significant problem.)

David Venturella’s testimony touches on the issue of criminal aliens whose fingerprints are not on file. What was not discussed was the huge issue of illegal aliens who make false claims to being United States citizens. When I was an INS special agent, we often encountered criminal aliens who were quite adept at gaming the system. They would often claim to be United States citizens and it took skill as an investigator to break such false claims. Often it would require that the agents used their Spanish language training to pick up on idioms and other clues that would alert us to the fact that the alien was not really from Puerto Rico. This was a claim often made by illegal aliens who spoke Spanish.

Aliens from the various Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad or other such countries claimed to have been born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The point was that when the INS was a “stand alone” agency, there was quite a bit of emphasis placed on uncovering such false claims. I would love to know how this is being done today when Spanish language is not only not mandatory, as it was when I was hired by the INS, it is not even offered as a part of the curriculum for new agents!

Immigration Enforcement Tripod

Next I want to make it clear that I have been a huge proponent of having an effective immigration enforcement program that addresses the critically important issue of the enforcement of the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States. In a recent commentary, in fact, I wrote about the “Immigration Enforcement Tripod.” The identification and removal of criminal aliens is an important component of interior enforcement but is only one of many elements that must be addressed if we are to have an effective immigration law enforcement effort.

In law enforcement, as is the case in other areas, there are two ways of doing things. These two broad categories are reactive and proactive.

When we act reactively, we essentially wait for the problem and then attempt to deal with it. The program that was touted by Mr. Venturella is an entirely reactive approach.

The administration has made it clear that the President is determined to provide millions of illegal aliens with amnesty and place them on the path to United States citizenship. I oppose any such blanket amnesty program for a number of important reasons. But let us begin by looking at the feasibility of implementing such a program that would deal with many millions of illegal aliens whose true identities including their respective nationalities are unknown and unknowable.

Because it is all but impossible to know their true identities, there is no reliable way of knowing if they have criminal histories or are fugitives in other countries. Therefore there is no way of knowing if they are affiliated with criminal or terrorist organizations. Consequently, there is also no reliable way of knowing how, where or when these millions of illegal aliens entered the United States. This means that any massive amnesty program could not include a provision that would require that aliens who would apply for amnesty would have to demonstrate that they have resided in the United States for a minimal period of time.

If the identities of these millions of illegal aliens are unknown and unknowable, then there is absolutely no way of determining how long any of these aliens have been present in the United States.

Aliens seeking to apply for amnesty would simply claim to have entered the United States by whatever deadline such legislation would require and there would be no way of knowing if that alien was being honest. In my experience, such aliens might well show up with receipts for utility bills they paid in various names and simply claim to have paid those bills as they were sent to their apartments. Often illegal aliens do not change the name of the person being billed for a telephone, gas or electricity service. It would be likely that these aliens would simply walk into an immigration office and provide all sorts of receipts in a number of names and undoubtedly the adjudicators would be told to accept any such “evidence” of physical presence in the United States.

This is not an unwarranted concern. There have been a long list of reports issued by the GAO (Government Accountability Office) and various Inspectors Generals that have pegged the fraud rate in some aspects of the immigration benefits program as high as 90%!

A study of the tactics used by terrorists have shown that immigration benefit fraud and visa fraud are often used by terrorists in order to enter the United States and/or embed themselves in our country. Of 94 terrorists who were identified as operating in our country in the decade before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 59 of those terrorists used immigration fraud to either enter the United States and/or embed themselves in our country (hide in plain sight).

Fraud was also a huge problem with the massive immigration amnesty program of 1986. In fact it was through fraud in that fatally flawed program that some of the terrorists who carried out the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 were able to embed themselves in the United States before that attack was carried out.

Yet the administration is still utterly ignoring immigration fraud!

Consider a recent report issued by the GAO in December 2008 entitled:

“IMMIGRATION BENEFITS: Actions Needed to Address Vulnerabilities in Process for Granting Permanent Residency”

Let me reiterate some of the major elements of what an effective interior enforcement program for immigration law enforcement should look like. In order to do this, I have attached a segment from an earlier commentary about the need for an effective interior enforcement program for immigration law enforcement:

Fraud Investigations

Special agents need to conduct investigations of fraud that fall under two basic categories, fraud schemes and fraud documents.

Fraud schemes can also be divided into two broad categories, visa fraud and immigration benefit fraud.

Fraud can be thought of as a lie committed in writing in an application to provide a person with a benefit that the person in question would not be entitled to if all of the relevant information was known to the person (adjudications officer or other official) at the time that the application for that benefit was being processed.

For the purposes of immigration, such applications might involve an application for a visa that would permit an alien to seek entry into the United States either temporarily on a nonimmigrant visa, such as a tourist visa, student visa or business visa, to name just a few of the visas that are available, or on an immigrant visa that provides the alien with a green card and thus accords that alien lawful immigrant status.

An example of a fraud scheme is the United States citizen or lawful permanent resident alien who marries an alien to provide that alien with resident alien (immigrant status) for money or other benefit. In such marriages, the couple does not really live together as a true couple but get married as part of an arranged “business deal.” When an investigation discloses that this is the case in a particular “marriage,” the citizen or immigrant spouse should be prosecuted for entering into a criminal conspiracy to violate our nation’s immigration laws as should the alien spouse who sought to use this fraud scheme to acquire a green card. The alien who was seeking to acquire resident alien status through fraud should then be taken before an immigration judge to seek his (her) removal (deportation) from the United States.

There are other such fraud schemes that involve the concealment of material facts that enable aliens to enter our country and/or embed themselves in our country. Often terrorists are charged with visa fraud because it is often far easier to show that an alien succeeded in entering our country by committing fraud than it is to prove that an alien is a terrorist.

In the case of fraud documents, we can include identity theft, the alteration of legitimate identity documents and the creation of counterfeit identity or supporting documents such as Social Security cards, birth certificates and other such documents.

Today, there have been many reports about how easily aliens can and have gamed the immigration benefits program. Among them have been criminals and terrorists. The solution is not to ignore the problem but to develop the resources to conduct the necessary investigations and law enforcement activities that would bring real integrity to the program that provides millions of aliens with the keys to the kingdom in a truly perilous era.

The adjudicators at USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) are rewarded for moving the applications that are stacked on their desks as they try to keep up with the ever increasing number of applications filed by ever more aliens who have become emboldened to file applications for a variety of immigration benefits including applications for residency and United States citizenship based on fraud. These bureaucrats must feel like Lucy and Ethel in that hilarious episode of “I Love Lucy” when Lucy and her friend got jobs at the candy factory and they attempt to wrap morsels of bonbons hurtling at them at ever increasing speed on a conveyor belt moving at warp speed.

The solution, in my judgment, is not to rush the process and compromise integrity, but to go after those who would commit fraud and convince those who would apply for applications that there is a serious price to be paid for attempting to defraud our government! This would, undoubtedly cause a sharp reduction in the number of new applications filed. This would cut waiting times for those who file legitimate applications and simultaneously make it easier for the adjudicators to screen out the fraud and create a bureaucracy that would have far greater integrity. 

In this way everyone but the bad guys would win.

This is called deterrence and must be applied to the immigration benefits program that has such serious national security implications!

This can only be achieved by hiring a large number of special agents for ICE and providing them with the training and the resources to create an immigration bureaucracy that has real integrity.

Employer Sanctions

Conducting investigations of factories, restaurants, hotels, farms and other places where people are employed to make certain that illegal aliens are not being gainfully employed. When an illegal alien is employed, both the employer and the illegal alien employee are violating the laws. Both need to be punished. Illegal aliens who are employed should be taken into custody and made to appear before an immigration judge for a removal (deportation) hearing. The unscrupulous employer who can be proven to have knowingly hired illegal aliens should be fined and face other legal sanctions should that employer continue to engage in the practice of hiring illegal aliens.

By making it clear that illegal aliens would not have an easy time of securing illegal employment in the United States, more Americans would be able to find jobs, wages earned by American citizens and lawful immigrants would be far more likely to be spent and invested in the United States (this is especially significant at a time when our government is claiming to be seeking to stimulate the American economy) and would reduce the number of illegal aliens streaming across our nation’s borders making it easier to gain control over our nation’s borders, especially the perilous southern border.

Alien Smuggling / Human Trafficking Investigations

When aliens are smuggled into the United States, the goal is generally not to simply set foot in the United States near the border but rather to enable the illegal alien to make his (her) way to the city they desire to go to after running our nation’s borders or otherwise entering the United States by circumventing the inspections process.

In addition to the obvious ploy of running our nation’s borders, some smuggled aliens stow away on ships or aircraft. Therefore it is important to seek to identify so-called “safe houses” where smuggled illegal aliens may be held until family members or other can provide the funds to the smugglers. It is also important to seek to identify the transporters who, working in cahoots with a smuggler, may use various vehicles to enable illegal aliens to travel across our country.

It is important to note that smugglers who assist illegal aliens in surreptitiously entering the United States. They also often engage in smuggling narcotics across our nation’s borders and often use illegal aliens as “beasts of burden” to carry a load of narcotics on their person. That is why such illegal aliens are referred to as “mules.”

Sometimes the aliens are made to carry narcotics in their person by swallowing narcotics stuffed into condoms that are then retrieved at a “safe house” within the United States. A number of years ago I assisted the DEA in New York in executing a search warrant in Staten Island where such an operation was being run out of an apartment in an apartment building. People in this operation, mostly citizens of Nigeria, entered the United States at John F. Kennedy International Airport with such condoms in their stomachs. They were met at the airport by a member of the drug organization who drove them to the apartment where they were given massive doses of a laxative and then one of the workers would use a strainer to retrieve the drug-laden condoms from the toilet. It was only after all of the condoms had passed through their bodies that these aliens were allowed to leave the apartment to hide in plain sight among the many other illegal aliens who have taken up illegal residency in our country.

In some instances, the condoms would burst before they got off the airplane, often causing the “swallower” to perish because of a massive overdose.

Criminal Alien / Fugitive Investigations

The agents who are assigned to this unit are responsible for locating aliens who have been convicted of crimes in the United States and have been sentenced to prison sentences. Some of these aliens may have been admitted to the United States as lawful immigrants (resident aliens) or they may have entered our country illegally. Regardless of how these aliens entered our country, by virtue of their criminal convictions, these aliens are now subject to removal from the United States.

Additionally, the agents in this squad also seek to arrest illegal aliens who had been deported (removed) from the United States and then, in one way or another, managed to reenter the United States without authorization. A criminal alien (aggravated felon in the parlance of the Immigration and Nationality Act) is subject to a maximum of 20 years of incarceration for the crime of reentry after deportation.

I am particularly proud of the fact that in the early 1980’s I had approached then United States Senator Al D’Amato of New York and convinced him to work with the administration, to have deportation hearings conducted in correctional facilities (rather than wait many years, in some instances, for a criminal alien to be released). Senator D’Amato sponsored legislation that would differentiate between administrative law violators who were deported from the United States and criminal aliens who were deported from the United States after serving their criminal sentences.

Before that law was enacted, there was no distinction between criminal aliens and aliens who had no felony convictions. Any alien who had been deported and then illegally reentered the United States was facing a maximum of two years in jail. Under the new law, the penalty for criminal aliens (aggravated felons) was created.

Task Force Investigations

There are a number of task forces that combine local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The idea behind these task forces can be summed up by one word: synergy. This means that the total is greater than the sum of the parts.

I spent roughly ten years as a senior special agent of the INS assigned to the Organized Crime, Drug Enforcement Task Force. For about 4 years I was the INS representative of the Unified Intelligence Division (UID) of the DEA in New York.

As the INS representative to the UID, some 20 years ago, I decided to compile arrest statistics to see how much of an involvement aliens had in narcotics-related crimes. Back then, some 60% of the defendants who had been arrested by DEA in New York City were identified as being “foreign born” while some 30% of those defendants, nationwide were identified as being “foreign born.”

The idea that foreign nationals are heavily involved in narcotics trafficking is not a new problem. It is just a huge component of the problem that our nation’s “leaders” have refused to address!

In both assignments, it became readily apparent that by working with other law enforcement agencies against drug trafficking organizations that all sorts of benefits to the effectiveness of these efforts could be greatly enhanced. Immigration was a major component of this operation, but we always suffered by an extreme lack of manpower and resources, especially where immigration was concerned.

There are also task forces involving terrorism, gangs and other serious threats to the safety of our people and the security of our nation.

As an INS (now ICE) special agent, information contained in immigration files offers tremendous insight into the risk of flight of criminals. This issue is of great importance when a criminal is arrested and is being arraigned. A federal magistrate or a judge is supposed to consider two primary issues in fixing bail: danger to the community and risk of flight.

The alien file often contains a veritable track record of past instances where a criminal alien may have used multiple identities, was deported and reentered the United States illegally on numerous occasions or failed to show up for immigration hearings.

The participation of an ICE agent in a criminal investigation may also enable other agencies and prosecutors to not unwittingly enter into a plea bargain deal in which an alien is able to plea bargain away a criminal charge that would result in his deportation from the United States.

ICE agents can also help to bring additional charges against a criminal alien such as visa fraud, benefit fraud or other such charge. Additionally, there is a charge that calls for a 5 year jail sentence for an illegal alien found to be in possession of a firearm. Only an ICE agent can provide the necessary evidence that the defendant found to be in possession of that weapon is, indeed, an illegal alien.

ICE agents can be instrumental in “flipping” informants. There are provisions of law that can be used to provide an informant and his family, with lawful status in our country if they are instrumental in assisting law enforcement agents in major criminal investigations.

ICE agents can also arrest members of criminal organizations on immigration violations without ever tipping their hand that they are part of a task force that has targeted other members of a terrorist or criminal organization.

Theses benefits also can help those cities whose leaders are not so screwed up that they declare their cities to be “sanctuary cities.”

When a community has a large illegal aliens population, all sorts of businesses spring up in support of that large illegal alien population. These businesses include mail drops services, money-wire services (remitters), telephone arcades and disposable cellphone businesses, document vendors and others that are helpful to illegal aliens and absolutely essential for criminals, drug traffickers and terrorists.

If our nation is to gain the upper hand in the many threats that confront our nation and our citizens, it is absolutely essential that there be an adequate number of ICE agents and supporting resources to make the interior enforcement of the immigration laws the priority is desperately needs to be.

It is the politicization of the immigration laws that has gotten our nation into the mess it is in and it must end. As I noted when I participated in a debate this past week at Fox News’ morning talk show, “Fox and Friends,” our nation has two addictions: Cheap labor provided by vulnerable and exploitable illegal aliens and narcotics.

The desire for that compliant labor force that has eroded the wages of Americans and has caused them, ultimately to lose their jobs has also caused tens of billions of dollars in wages paid to illegal aliens and alien workers who have been admitted into the United States on “temporary” work visas to be wired or otherwise transmitted out of the United States and thus out of our nation’s economy. Meanwhile, the “Fools on the Hill” (Congress) refused to make the E-Verify program a component of the economic stimulus package!

Our nation and our citizens are threatened by the prospect of terrorist attacks as well as by the criminal activities of international gangs and narcotics trafficking organizations including the extremely violent and pernicious drug cartels of Mexico and other countries.

Clearly the only solution is to take on the cartels and win! There is no such thing as “second place” in the war on drugs or terror!

This means that a coordinated strategy that couples effective strategies on our nation’s borders must be augmented by the effective enforcement of the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States.

Anything that ignores the vital interior enforcement mission is doomed to fail!

When a leading manager of ICE stands before a Congressional committee at an oversight hearing and ignores the bulk of what should be an effective and robust effort to enforce the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States I am angered.

Insanity has been described as doing the same things the same way, repeatedly, and expecting a different outcome.

I have provided this proverb before that is the translation of a famous Yiddish saying: “When a fish goes bad, it smells from the head!”

For Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to place acts of terrorism on the same level as an accident makes it clear that she does not “get it.”

I am, of course, referring to her statement that the term “terrorist attack” should be renamed “man-caused disaster.” This is more than semantics. This represents, to me, a failure of the head of DHS to truly come to terms with the challenges and threats confronting our nation. The first step necessary in problem solving is to first identify the problem. Clearly the administration, not unlike the previous administration is unable or unwilling to truly solve the problem if the problem is illegal immigration.

The time to stand up and be counted is now! The job you save, may be your own!

If your senators or representative is not representing you- fire him (her)!

In little more than one year, election campaigns will begin for each and every seat in the House of Representatives. At the same time, campaigns for more than one third of the seats in the United States Senate will also begin.

The large scale apathy demonstrated by citizens of this nation has emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups. There is much that we cannot do but there is one thing that We the People absolutely must do – we must stop sitting on the sidelines!

The collective failure of We the People to get involved in making our concerns known to our politicians have nearly made the concerns of the great majority of the citizens of this nation all but irrelevant to the politicians.

I implore you to get involved!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue – simply stated, this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

Michael Cutler
Michael Cutler, a former Senior INS Investigator, an expert witness in more than a dozen Congressional Hearings is a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and an advisor to the '911 Families for a Secure America.' He writes about the nexus between immigration and national security.